South Korea's spy chief says North Korea is highly likely to attack the South again, following its deadly shelling of a South Korean island last week.
The Yonhap news agency says South Korean National Intelligence Service director Won Sei-hoon made the prediction of another North Korean attack during a parliamentary committee meeting Wednesday.
Yonhap quotes ruling party lawmaker Rhee Beum-kwan as saying Won told the committee that North Korea attacked Yeonpyeong Island on November 23 to distract attention from its internal problems.
Rhee quotes Won as saying North Korea's leadership faces growing public dissatisfaction with the country's poor economic situation and Supreme Leader Kim Jong Il's apparent plan to transfer power to his youngest son, Kim Jong Un.
China is appealing for all parties to avoid inflaming tensions in the region. In Beijing, the official Xinhua news agency quotes Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi as saying all sides should "keep calm and exercise restraint." He is the highest-ranking Chinese official to comment publicly on the crisis.
The United States and South Korea ended a major naval exercise in the Yellow Sea Wednesday. South Korean Defense Ministry officials said they are in talks for another major exercise with the United States to take place as early as this month.
The joint naval exercise that ended Wednesday was the largest in a series of drills staged by South Korea and the U.S. in recent months. It involved thousands of sailors, 75 aircraft and 10 warships, including the nuclear-powered USS George Washington.
South Korean officials said they have not yet decided on the timing or nature of the next joint exercise. They said it will come later this month or early next year.
In New York, diplomats say China is blocking efforts at the United Nations Security Council to draw up a statement condemning North Korea for its attack on Yeonpyeong Island and its development of a uranium enrichment facility.
Diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity told news services that China was unwilling to permit the use of the word "condemn" or say North Korea is in "violation" of U.N. resolutions.
Early last week, North Korea fired more than 100 artillery shells at a military garrison on Yeonpyeong, killing two soldiers and two civilians and causing widespread damage. Since then, South Korea has reinforced its garrison and evacuated most of the island's civilian residents.
Article by VOA News