Lee says sinking was a wake-up call

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Lee says sinking was a wake-up call


President Lee Myung-bak talks to religious leaders about the Cheonan disaster yesterday at the Blue House. From left; Han Yang-won, chairman of the Korea Ethnic Religions Association; Lim Un-gil, head of Chondogyo; Lee Kwang-sun, chairman of the Christian Council of Korea; Lee; Choi Gun-duk, chief of the Sung Kyun Kwan; Jaseung, executive chief of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism; Kim Hee-jung, chairman of Inter-religion Dialogue Commission of Roman Catholics; Kim Ju-won, a leader of Won Buddhism, and Culture Minister Yu In-chon. By Cho Mun-gyu

Calling North Korea “the world’s most warlike power,” President Lee Myung-bak said yesterday the sinking of the Navy ship Cheonan should serve as a national wake-up call to the dangerous security situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Before hosting a meeting at the Blue House to discuss regional development plans, Lee spoke about the aftermath of the Cheonan’s sinking.

“We have forgotten that we are living in a divided country,” Lee said. Because 60 years have passed since the peninsula was divided, he said, the military has apparently gotten soft, “and the people have forgotten that North Korea, armed with long-range artilleries, is located only about 40 miles away from us.

“[The tragedy] must serve as an opportunity to alter our awareness and to remind us that North Korea, the world’s most warlike power, is very near us,” Lee said. “That will repay the fallen soldiers’ sacrifice.”

Earlier this week, Lee vowed to reform the military, emphasizing the need to tighten its slacked discipline. Since the Cheonan’s sinking, the military leadership has faced criticism for its slow response to the crisis.

On Friday, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young also vowed to strengthen the military’s discipline.

The president’s harsh characterization of the North was the second in two days as relations between the two Koreas deteriorate. On Tuesday, Lee said Pyongyang must “sober up” about the reality that its people are suffering in economic hardship.

“Lee spoke harshly about the North because South Koreans’ alertness might have slackened during the two liberal administrations of the past 10 years,” said a Blue House official. “It’s not only a message to the North, but also a message to South Koreans to unite during this security crisis.”

In another meeting yesterday with religious leaders, President Lee also addressed the Cheonan’s sinking. “The people are largely concerned about the incident because it took place amid tensions between the two Koreas,” Lee said.

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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