S Korea vows retaliation against any further attack

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak vowed retaliation against any further provocation by the North after it attacked an island last week as anger simmered over the government’s response.

Lee addressed the nation for the first time since Tuesday’s attack as US and South Korean warships took part in military manoeuvres, prompting concern in regional power China and threats of all-out war from North Korea.

He also visited US forces in Korea to thank them for the show of force.

“North Korea will pay the price in the event of further provocations,” Lee said. “Attacking civilians militarily is an inhumane crime that is strictly forbidden in a time of war... Now is the time to show action, not a hundred words.”

Lee has been criticised in the media for being weak, and an opinion poll on Monday showed many felt the government had been too restrained. Lee’s personal rating has also fallen since the attack, and there have been protests against his response.

About 500 former soldiers and ex-police burnt North Korean flags and effigies of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il at a Seoul rally on Monday.

War unlikely

The attack raised tensions on the peninsula to their highest level in at least two decades, but experts say the crisis is unlikely to escalate into war.

Clashes in disputed waters off the west coast are not uncommon, with dozens of sailors killed and warships sunk over the past 11 years, but Tuesday’s attack on Yeonpyeong was the first time a residential area had suffered a direct hit. Of the four killed, two were civilians.

Moody’s Investors Service said uncertainty over confrontations have already been factored into South Korean credit ratings. But the agency said it was still determining whether the recent attack marked a fundamentally more reckless stance by North Korea.

China has proposed emergency talks amid global pressure on Beijing to be more aggressive in helping resolve the standoff between the rival Koreas and try to rein in ally Pyongyang which depends on China for aid.

Washington and Tokyo were non-committal, saying they would consult with Seoul, which was sceptical of the proposal to sit down with North Korea, effectively rewarding it for bad behaviour.

The reclusive North was previously offered massive aid in return for disarmament pledges that went unmet.

A senior North Korean official also expressed scepticism about the Chinese call. North Korea has yet to issue an official response but the official said countries responsible for the latest standoff should first hold talks.

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