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South Korean leader visits disputed island

President Lee Myung Bak has tried to bolster his image by demonstrating resolve to defend disputed territories.

DONG A ILBO/AFP/Getty Images

President Lee Myung Bak has tried to bolster his image by demonstrating resolve to defend disputed territories.

SEOUL— President Lee Myung Bak made a surprise visit on Thursday to a South Korean border island that was attacked by North Korean artillery in 2010, and he vowed to defend his country’s disputed western sea border against the North.

Lee is the first South Korean president to visit the island of Yeonpyeong, which lies just south of the so-called Northern Limit Line, the disputed Yellow Sea border between the two Koreas. In November 2010, a North Korean coastal artillery unit just miles to the north shelled the island, killing two civilians and two marines. South Korean marines based on Yeonpyeong launched a counterattack on the North’s gun positions.

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Lee, whose five-year term ends in February and whose popularity has plummeted amid scandals implicating some of his relatives and former aides, has tried to bolster his image in recent months by demonstrating resolve to defend disputed territories.

Lee’s visit to Yeonpyeong comes amid concern in South Korea about lapses in the military’s vigilance on the border.

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