South Korea. Attacks from North Korea whipped up unusually fierce moods in the country during the year. An explosion occurred in March aboard a warship that was near the disputed sea border in the west. According to COUNTRYAAH, South Korea has the population of 51.64 million (2018). The Coronet Cheonan was split in two and dropped; 58 people from the crew could be rescued but 46 went to the bottom. The two hull sections were salvaged in April. The atmosphere was great in the country and hundreds of thousands of people visited a memorial site for the dead.
Various theories existed about what caused the explosion, but an international investigative commission reported in May that it was a North Korean submarine dump that lowered Cheonan.
The conclusion was questioned from some quarters, and in July the UN Security Council condemned the “attack” without directly accusing North Korea. However, South Korea was praised for its “restraint”.
However, there were no question marks in November when North Korean artillery, in conjunction with a South Korean military exercise, fired on an island near the border. Four people, including two civilians, were killed in the attack, which set fire to buildings and triggered a major evacuation of the island’s residents. The outside world reacted strongly to the attack, which was one of the most serious that occurred between the two states.
South Korea had already frozen the restricted trade after the lowering of the Cheonan and could do nothing more than protest loudly. Some South Koreans thought the government should take a tougher approach, while others accused President Lee Myung Bak of provoking North Korea through its tough stance.
South Korea held a few more military exercises after the attack on the island of Yeonpyeong. North Korea threatened retaliation and “holy war”, but did nothing. The UN Security Council held a crisis meeting in late December due to the tense situation.
Two North Koreans who claimed to be refugees were reported in April to have admitted that they were in fact agents, sent to murder Hwang Jang Yop. They were sentenced to ten years in prison. 87-year-old Hwang was the highest-ranking North Korean who jumped off. After 13 years in South Korea, he was still called a social enemy in his homeland and he lived under constant surveillance. In October, Hwang was found dead in his bathtub, and authorities reportedly arrested yet another North Korean spy. There were speculations that Hwang had been murdered, but according to official records he died of natural causes.
The ruling Conservative Great National Party (GNP) suffered stinging defeats when local and regional elections were held in June. Several leading members of the party immediately resigned as a result of the poor election results. At the end of July, Prime Minister Chung Un Chan also left his post. President Lee then announced a reshuffle in the government. But the intended replacement at the Prime Minister’s post as well as two other prime ministerial candidates resigned at the end of August because of corruption charges. Instead, the new Prime Minister became Kim Hwang Sik, who was approved by Parliament on October 1.