North Korea fires missiles as Pope Francis visits South Korea
PYONGYANG: Pope Francis has called for peace in the
war-ridden Korean peninsula during a visit to the South, as the North Korea fired
five missiles to coincide with his arrival. Three rockets were fired as the Pope’s
plane approached Seoul, and there were reports of a further three, shortly
after he touched down.
All of the short-range missiles landed in the sea off
North Korea’s east coast, hundreds of miles away from the Pontiff's plane. In
his first speech after landing, the Pope called for renewed efforts to forge
peace in the war-divided Korean Peninsula.
He urged both sides to avoid ‘fruitless’ criticisms
and shows of force and told South Korean President Park Geun-hye that peace
required forgiveness and mutual respect. The North has tested an unprecedented
number of rockets and missiles this year, including many in recent weeks.
It says the launches are in retaliation for US-South
Korean military exercises scheduled to start on Monday. Pyongyang often stages such
tests when rival South Korea is in the global spotlight - as is the case with
the papal visit - in what is seen as a means of grabbing attention.
The Argentine pope will spend five days in South
Korea, meeting some of the country's five million Catholics on the first trip
by a pontiff to Asia since 1999. But much of the attention will be on the
Vatican's relations with China. It was the first time a pope had been allowed
to fly over China on Asian tours.
His predecessor, John Paul II, had to avoid Chinese
airspace because of the fraught relations between Beijing and the Vatican. Before
touching down in Seoul, Pope Francis sent an unprecedented message of goodwill
“Upon entering Chinese air space, I extend best wishes
to your Excellency and your fellow citizens and I invoke the divine blessing of
peace and well-being upon the nation," he said in a radio message to
President Xi Jinping.
The Vatican has had no formal relations with China
since shortly after the Communist Party took power in 1949. The Catholic Church
in China is divided into two communities.
The first is the ‘official’ Church known as the ‘Patriotic
Association’ answerable to the Party; the second an underground Church that
swears allegiance only to the Pope in Rome.
As the Pope touched
down in Seoul, there were reports that some Chinese had been barred from
travelling to a youth celebration in South Korea. About half of more than 100
Chinese who had planned to attend the Asian Youth Day event during the papal
visit were unable to attend.