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Beijing places tremendous pressure on priests and laypeople to go along with its choice of bishops.

SOUTH KOREA

Top U.S. military officer warns of N. Korean threat

SEOUL — South Korea could see more North Korean provocations as Pyongyang works to strengthen leader Kim Jong-il’s successor, the top U.S. military officer said Thursday.

Seoul says North Korean attacks last year killed 50 South Koreans as Kim Jong-il’s third son, Kim Jong-un, rose to prominence as heir-apparent.

“A succession plan being executed has been ongoing for some time, and that’s not an insignificant part of the whole provocation cycle,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told reporters in Seoul.

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff also said that North Korea’s “threat remains very real” as it continues to pursue improved nuclear capabilities.

“I’m not convinced that they won’t provoke again. I’ve said for a long time that the only thing predictable about North Korea is their unpredictability,” Adm. Mullen said.

Seoul blames a North Korean torpedo for sinking a South Korean warship in March 2010, killing 46 sailors. North Korea denies any role.

North Korea shelled a front-line South Korean island in November, killing four people. The North also threatened last month to retaliate for the South Korean military’s use of photos of Kim Jong-il and his family for shooting practice.

From wire dispatches and staff reports