US shootings stir worries in South Korea

The identification of the gunman believed to have killed 32 students and teachers at a US university as a South Korean immigrant sent Seoul into crisis mode Wednesday.

President Roh Moo-hyun convened an emergency cabinet meeting to prevent the massacre’s fallout from affecting improving relations with the country’s strongest ally. The incident comes right after the signing of a landmark trade deal between the two countries.

Mr Roh and the foreign ministry offered deep condolences to the victims and the bereaved families and expressed the hope that the shootings at Virginia Tech would not cause any racial hatred toward Koreans in the US.

Mr Roh was “shocked beyond description by the enormity of the incident,” after he was informed of the identity of the shooter, the presidential Blue House said in a statement. “[He] again expressed, on behalf of all Korean people, the most profound sorrow and offered words of comfort to the bereaved families, President George Bush and all Americans.”

The foreign ministry said it hoped that the Virginia shootings would not “stir up racial prejudice or confrontation.” It set up an emergency task force to monitor the situation “in case of unforeseen events.”

The state-run Korea National Tourism Organisation, meanwhile, suspended global broadcast of a new ad campaign on CNN titled “Korea, Sparkling.”

Korean businesses have expressed worries about possible damage to the country’s national image from the incident. Web sites have been flooded with condolences from ordinary Koreans who have despaired at the fact that their compatriot committed the massacre.

“I am ashamed that I am a Korean,” an internet user wrote on the country’s top portal Naver. “As a South Korean, I feel apologetic to the Virginia Tech victims.”

The shooter has been identified as Cho Seung-hui, a 23-year-old English literature student who had lived legally in the US for 14 years after immigrating as a boy. His family reportedly had struggled to make ends meet in Korea before they moved to the US for better life.

Korean newspapers have voiced concerns about a possible racial backlash. “We hope that this incident will not create discrimination and prejudice against people of South Korean or Asian origin,” the Hankyoreh newspaper said in an editorial.

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