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South/North Korea: Tensions Escalate in Midst of Live-Fire Drills

South Korean military exercises were underway today near the disputed waters with North Korea, who threatened Seoul to strike back, raising more tensions in the Korean peninsula. The Korean people, who have had one of the toughest days in recent weeks after the Yeonpyeong incident that killed four South Koreans, sighed with relief as the day came to a close without any conflict breaking out. Unlike the Yeonpyeong incident a month ago, people reacted more calmly to the situation and acted more strategically in the time of near-emergency.

It was a long day for Korean web users. In the early morning, they heard news that the South Korean defense ministry was to go ahead with a live-fire exercise near Yeonpyeong island, which North Korea saw as an act of aggression. (It had been previously scheduled to take place on December 18, but was delayed due to bad weather.) At around 11 am, it was revealed that Security Council negotiations to protract an agreement with North Korea on the shelling of Yeonpyeong had failed. The clock reached around 2pm and one piece of unexpected news surprised anxious Koreans. North Korea agreed with New Mexico governor Bill Richardson – who is meeting with officials in the North to try to ease regional tensions – to allow the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to its nuclear facilities. This turn of events, was, however, soon eclipsed by the military drill that started at 2:30pm, and continued until around 4pm. One of South Korea's most prolific Twitter users, @Narciman, wrote:

우리 군의 연평도 해상 포사격 훈련은 시작되었고, 이제 모든 이목은 북한의 대응 여부에 쏠려있군요…”세계가 지켜보고 있습니다…” [몇 시간 후, 다른 트윗] UN안보리 합의 도출 실패, IAEA 사찰단 북 핵시설 복귀 허용, 연평도 포격 훈련 실시…숨가빴던 하루가 끝나갑니다. 큰 판이 어떻게 돌아가고 있는지 모르는 국민들만 가슴 졸이며 하루를 보낸 것은 아닌지 씁쓸합니다…

Our naval live-fire drills have started. Now every attention is on North Korea’s responses. The world is watching them.[several hours later, another tweet] UN Security Council's negotiation had failed, IAEA inspectors were allowed to return to North's nuclear facilities, and the live-fire drills in Yeonpyeong island had indeed happened…This smothering day is finally passing away. I feel bitter that the ordinary people who have no idea on the big picture spent their whole day worrying…

Looming concerns over the ever-intensified tensions between two Koreas could be easily felt on Twitter. As the drill neared its end, Twitterers, remembering the Yeonpyeong incident, were worried abou what might happen soon after the military drill. On November 23, the North shot thousands of aritillery fire at a populated island after South Korea's military drill finished. @JunghoonYoon commented:

2시 30분 사격 시작하여 1시간 후인 3시 30분 사격 종료 예상. 지난 도발시 사격 종료 즈음에 북한이 도발한 것을로 보아 사격 종료 시점에 주의해야 할듯.

We expect the drill which started at 2:30pm to end at around 3:30pm. Considering the North’s latest provocation which happened immediately after our military drill had finished, we need to keep a close watch at around the termination of the firing.

@MediaMongu, a Korean citizen media outlet, retweeted @elvisoon, a media professional:

갑자기 본부장님 사무실 PD와 작가, AD들 모두 한 곳에 불러 모음. “연평도 포격이 시작됐는데, 만일 무슨 일 터지면 휴대전화 안될테니 가족과 애인들에게 어디서 만날지 미리 이야기 해서 정해둬라”

Our head of the office called every one, the producers, writers and ADs (Assistant Directors) together at one place and said, ‘the live-fire on Yeonpyeong Island has started. If something happens, mobile phones will not work. So talk to your families and boy/girl friends in advance about where you will join them (in time of emergency).’

The drill previously scheduled to take place on December 18 has drawn heated debates nationwide. One side urged the South Korean government to calm down and halt needless provocations, such as @heezukheezuk (@wikitree tweeted [ko] about the protest) who stood in front of the Ministry of Defense to protest against creating a near-war situation. Meanwhile, a majority of people defended the government's choice. Hong Jong-wook (@JongWookHong), one of South Korea's most notable politicians, responded to one Twitterer (@lejina5528), who argued that a political decision that merely raises tension would be harmful to the Korean public. Hong said:

저는 늘 대화를 주장했지만 분명 위기의 책임은 북한에 있으며, 지금은 당근을 쓸 때가 아닙니다. 응징과 확전방지란 힘든 목표를 위해 국력과 외교력을 총동원해야 합니다.

Even though I have constantly called for communications (in problem-solving with the North), now is not the time for carrot [a policy of rewarding one's behaviour, as opposed to ‘stick’, meaning to punish]. To retaliate and to deter the expansion of war, we need to summon all of our national power and diplomatic leverages.

Still, whether they agree with the authorities’ decisions or not, many have expressed the fear over the impending danger. As the drill got delayed several times due to heavy fog, several Koreans, such @givenjoy, commented:

안개가 훈련을 못하게 하고 있다. 우리는 안개에게 감사해야 하는가?

The fog is blocking the military drill. Should we be thanking the fog?

Yeonpyeong islanders are probably the most hurt victims of today. Journalist @raburingo tweeted a photo of islanders and journalists who stifled their breaths during the drill while staying in a bomb shelter on the island, desperately waiting for the drill to end.

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