South Korean president warns of 'reckless provocations' by North Korea

North Korean soldiers look at South Korea across the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), in December 2011.

SEOUL — President Park Geun-hye said Monday South Korea should be fully prepared against possible North Korean hostilities, warning that the communist nation could attempt "reckless provocations" after the execution of leader Kim Jong-un's uncle.

Park made the remark during a weekly meeting with senior secretaries amid concerns that North Korea could try to escalate tensions with the outside world in an effort to strengthen internal unity after executing Jang Song-thaek, the young leader's uncle, for treason last week.

"When we look at a recent series of developments in North Korea, it is uncertain in which direction the North Korean situation will go. We are in a situation where we cannot rule out contingencies, such as reckless provocations," Park said.

Given the "gravity and unpredictability of the current situation," South Korea should be fully prepared for all possibilities, Park said. She ordered the military to strengthen vigilance against various forms of provocations, especially in front-line areas, including border islands in the Yellow Sea.

Jang, who had been considered the second-most influential official in the North, was executed on Thursday immediately after a military tribunal sentenced him to death for attempting to overthrow the regime, according to Pyongyang's state media.

His downfall has sparked fears of instability in the nuclear-armed nation.

Later in the day, Park presided over a meeting of top security officials.

"Seeing the current situation on the Korean Peninsula and our security situation as very grave, the president stressed that the government should get itself thoroughly prepared for any situation," senior presidential press secretary Lee Jung-hyun told reporters.

Park also ordered officials to strengthen the combined defense posture with the United States, and work closely with the ally, neighboring nations and the international community in handling the situation, he said.

Park, meanwhile, expressed frustration over the rail workers' strike, saying the weeklong walkout has no justification because it came despite repeated assurances from the government that it has no intention to privatize a planned subsidiary of the state-run Korea Railroad Corp. (KORAIL).

"It is truly regrettable that the rail workers' union is on an illegal strike, taking the nation's economic artery hostage," she said. "There is no justification at all to inflict damage on the national economy."

More than 6,500 unionized workers at KORAIL walked off the job last Monday in protest against a government decision to set up a subsidiary to run some high-speed train services. The union suspects the move would ultimately lead to the privatization of the state-run rail firm.

Park assured again that the subsidiary's establishment has nothing to do with privatization and stressed that the decision is aimed at fostering internal competition to improve efficiency at the state rail monopoly.

"It is wrong to resort to collective action without justification to advance their own interests. It would put out the embers (of recovery) in the nation's economy," she said. "The labor and management should exercise leadership and resolve problems at the negotiating table."

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