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Thursday, Nov. 25, 2010

Kan confers with Lee on North threat

Pro-Pyongyang high schools' tuition waiver now in doubt


Staff writer

Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his Seoul counterpart, Lee Myung Bak, agreed Wednesday their countries and the United States must work closely to confront any provocations by North Korea, which the previous day shelled a South Korean island in the Yellow Sea, causing four confirmed deaths.

Kan informed Lee by phone that Tokyo will call on Beijing, Pyongyang's economic and political benefactor, to pressure the reclusive state to halt similar belligerence in the future, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama told reporters.

Lee said he talked to U.S. President Barack Obama just before his conversation with Kan, and told Obama he will work together with the U.S. and Japan to deal with the incident, according to Fukuyama.

"I strongly condemn the provocative act of North Korea," Kan was quoted as saying by Fukuyama. "Japan strongly supports the position of South Korea."

Lee thanked Japan for its support.

Kan also called for action from the international community, including the U.N. Security Council, and offered his condolences to the victims of Tuesday's shelling, in which two South Korean marines were killed and 18 others, including civilians, were wounded, Fukuyama said. Later reports said two civilians were also found dead.

Kan busied himself Wednesday responding to growing military tensions on the Korean Peninsula, setting up a government task force and instructing ministries to gather more information.

Transport minister Sumio Mabuchi said he ordered the Japan Coast Guard chief to beef up security of the nation's territorial waters, while Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Akihiro Ohata asked utilities to take further steps to safeguard nuclear power plants nationwide.

Meanwhile, the government suspended procedures to include pro-Pyongyang high schools for Korean residents in Japan in the government's tuition waiver program.

"At this point in time, it is not a punitive measure" against North Korea, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku told reporters.

"But amid the tension on the Korean Peninsula, it is better to suspend the procedures."

Education minister Yoshiaki Takaki said in a separate briefing that the government "may need to make a grave decision," indicating Tokyo may continue to exclude the schools from the program.

The education ministry was planning to include 10 high schools tied to the pro-Pyongyang group Chongryon in the program next month.

Under a law that took effect in April, students at public high schools are exempt from tuition, while private and other schools equivalent to high schools receive ¥118,800 to ¥237,600 annually per student based on household income.

But there was strong opposition among Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers to include the North-affiliated schools in the program, as they offer anti-Japan education.

Meanwhile, heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula led the Liberal Democratic Party, the main opposition force, to end some Diet actions against the DPJ-led government Wednesday.

The LDP shelved for now a plan to submit nonbinding censure motions against Sengoku and Mabuchi to the Upper House over the online leaking of video clips of the Sept. 7 collisions of a Chinese trawler and coast guard patrol boats.

"It doesn't mean the reason for the motions has disappeared," LDP Diet affairs chief Ichiro Aisawa said.

The DPJ and LDP agreed to adopt a resolution in both chambers of the Diet condemning North Korea's shelling as early as Thursday.

Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara met with Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua and urged Beijing to do all it can to stop North Korea from taking further provocations.

Citing the deaths of two civilians in Tuesday's fighting, Maehara called Pyongyang's attack "unforgivable" at a news conference the same day.

"Of course, there is no difference in a person's life, be it a soldier or a civilian," Maehara said. "But it is extremely grave that completely defenseless civilians died in an indiscriminate attack. . . . I think North Korea committed an unforgivable act."



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