South Korean President Park Geun-hye said on Monday that she would not tolerate or overlook attempts to cause social division in the country after a Catholic priest made remarks justifying North Korea's deadly 2010 artillery attack on a border island.
"There are many things happening that break the morale of our soldiers ... and make their sacrifices go down the drain. I and the government won't tolerate or overlook these things that let people's trust fall and cause divisiveness," she said during a meeting with senior secretaries, apparently referring to the priest's remarks.
The priest, Park Chang-shin, made the remarks on Friday during the course of a Mass urging her to resign over allegations that state agencies, including the National Intelligence Service, interfered with last year's presidential election with online postings in favor of her.
During the Mass, the priest allegedly said that it was natural for the North to attack the island because the South and the United States held military exercises close to the Yellow Sea border that Pyongyang does not recognize.
The cleric also reportedly decried the findings of an international body that the North torpedoed a South Korean warship in 2010 in waters near the Yellow Sea border, saying the Communist nation could not have mounted such a highly sophisticated attack.
The remarks stirred an uproar among conservative South Koreans still resenting the two deadly attacks in which 50 South Koreans, including two civilians, were killed.
The priest is a member of the Catholic Priests' Association for Justice, a group of liberal clerics known for its efforts to bring democracy to South Korea in the 1980s. The group has since taken stances on several sensitive issues, drawing fire from the conservatives.
When the government announced the result of the international probe into the 2010 sinking of frigate 'Cheonan,' many liberals doubted the findings that the North was behind the attack. Liberals have accused conservatives of blindly branding them as pro-North Korean in an attempt to stifle legitimate dissent they raise about various social and political issues in what they call a neo-McCarthyism.
The South Korean President also stressed that it takes not only state-of-the-art weapons, but also "people's patriotism and unity" to defend the country. If North Korea attempt surprise attacks again, the South would "respond sternly and make it never attempt them again." the Yonhap news agency quoted Park as saying.
Earlier, Prime Minister Chung Hong-won had also criticized the priest, saying that "this is an act of destroying the Republic of Korea and siding with the enemy."
by RTT Staff Writer
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