SEOUL, Nov. 25 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye said Monday she won't tolerate or overlook any attempts to cause social division in South Korea after a Catholic priest made remarks justifying North Korea's deadly 2010 artillery attack on a border island.
The priest, Park Chang-shin, made the remarks Friday during Mass urging Park to resign over allegations that state agencies, including the National Intelligence Service, tampered with last year's presidential election with online political postings in favor of her.
The cleric also strongly discredited a government finding that the North torpedoed a South Korean warship in 2010 in waters near the Yellow Sea border between the two Koreas, saying the communist nation could not have mounted such a highly sophisticated attack.
The remarks caused an uproar among conservative South Koreans still resenting the two deadly attacks. A total of 50 South Koreans, including two civilians, were killed in the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island and the sinking of the warship Cheonan.
"There are many things happening that break the morale of our soldiers ... and make their sacrifices go down the drain," Park said during a meeting with senior secretaries. "I and the government won't tolerate or overlook these things that let people's trust fall and cause divisiveness."
The remark was seen as criticism of the priest, though she did not directly mention him.
The priest is a member of the Catholic Priests' Association for Justice, a group of liberal priests known for its efforts to bring democracy to South Korea in the 1980s. The group has since taken stances on many sensitive issues, drawing conservatives to criticize its political bias.
North Korea has long been one of the most divisive issues in South Korea. When the government announced the results of an international probe into the 2010 sinking of the 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.
Park also stressed 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, she said the South should "respond sternly and make it never attempt them again."
Hours earlier, Prime Minister Chung Hong-won directly criticized the priest.
"This is an act of destroying the Republic of Korea and siding with the enemy," Chung said during an emergency meeting with senior officials, according to his office. The Republic of Korea is South Korea's official name.
"Priest Park's remarks not only speak for North Korea's logic, but also advocate North Korea's inhumane provocations that ... claimed the lives of innocent residents. We can never sit by and (he) should take responsibility as a matter of course," Chung said.
"I have no face to see the souls of fallen heroes who died while defending the country," he said. "In order to ensure their sacrifices won't go down the drain, any forces hurting the basic order of liberal democracy or impeding national security commitment deserve national criticism and should never be tolerated."
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