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Asia-Pacific

South Korea scraps controversial Christmas lights as North mourns Kim Jong-Il

media Kim Jon Un paying his respects to his late father Kim Jong Il Reuters

South Korea has scrapped a plan to display Christmas lights near the border with North Korea, in a conciliatory gesture as its neighbour mourns the death of leader Kim Jong-Il.

Unification minister Yu Woo-Ik, who is in charge of cross-border ties, expressed hopes that the North would return to stability as soon as possible so that the two Koreas can co operate for “peace and prosperity”.

The communist North had strongly objected to the South Korean church groups’ plan to display the lights on three towers on military-controlled hills near the border, calling the idea “psychological warfare”.

The hills are within three kilometres of the frontier and within range of North Korean gunfire.

Map of North and South Korea
Anthony Terrade/RFI

The two Koreas reached a deal in 2004 to halt official-level cross-border propaganda and the South stopped its annual Christmas border illuminations, which represent prosperity as well as the celebration of a religious festival.

South Korea resumed the display last December after a shelling attack by the North on a border island killed four South Koreans the previous month.

Before Kim Jong Il’s death, Pyong Yang had warned of what it called “unexpected consequences” if Seoul displayed Christmas lights this year, vowing unspecified retaliation.

Meanwhile Kim Jong Il’s body is now on display in a glass coffin, and North Korean state television showed Kim Jong-Un, his youngest son who has been named his successor, viewing the corpse along with senior officials.

China’s president on Tuesday expressed his condolences over Kim Jong-Il’s death and in a bid to prevent instability on its doorstep, called on North Koreans to unite behind Kim Jong-Un.

Hu Jintao visited the North Korean Embassy in Beijing in person to pay his respects.

Meanwhile President Barack Obama pledged to defend regional allies such as South Korea and Japan if necessary, as advisors try to work out what to expect now that Kim Jong-Un is officially leader of the country.

John Feffer at the Institute of Policy Studies in Washington thinks Kim Jong Il’s death presents the United States with an opportunity.

“Rather than wait for North Korea to formulate its post-Kim Jong Il policy, the United States and South Korea should take this opportunity to make an overture to the new leadership in Pyongyang,” he said.
 

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