- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2007

SEOUL — South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, clearly dismayed to learn that it was a South Korean who took the lives of at least 30 students and faculty members at Virginia Tech, said yesterday he was “shocked beyond description by the enormity of the incident.”

In his second official statement on the massacre, posted on the Web site of the Blue House, the president’s official residence, Mr. Roh added “his earnest wish that the enormously saddened Korean-American community, along with all American citizens, would be able to wisely cope with the staggering trauma.”

Cho Byung-je, a foreign ministry official handling North American affairs, said, “We convey deep condolences to victims, families and the American people.”

The diplomat said he knew of no motive for the shootings and added that South Korea hoped the tragedy would not “stir up racial prejudice or confrontation.”

The killer was identified yesterday as Cho Seung-hui, a 23-year-old Korean passport holder who had an American residence permit and was the son of immigrants.

Cho turned the gun on himself after killing 30 persons in Norris Hall as police closed in. Two persons were fatally shot hours earlier in West Ambler Johnston Hall, a coed dormitory, but investigators have not concluded that the incidents are linked.

South Korea’s cyberspace community was stunned when the gunman’s identity was announced, with many expressing disbelief that he was a Korean. Earlier reports had identified the killer as Chinese.

The shootings sparked criticism around the world of U.S. gun-control laws. Editorials lashed out at the availability of weapons, and the leader of Australia — one of America’s closest allies — declared that the U.S. gun culture was costing lives.

Yesterday, it was announced that Inchon, the port city serving Seoul, had bested New Delhi in a bid to host the 2014 Asian Games. In the same way that London’s 2005 Olympic triumph was overshadowed by terrorist attacks, the news of the tragedy is likely to subdue celebrations here today.

Despite disputes over North Korean policy and the sometimes uneasy relationship between Korea-based GIs and locals, the United States is South Korea’s closest ally. At the beginning of this month, the two nations agreed to a bilateral free-trade pact.

There are an estimated 1.4 million Americans of Korean descent. About 100,000 Koreans were studying in the United States last year, ahead of the 77,000 students from India and 61,000 from China, according to U.S. Immigration Department statistics. About 460 Koreans reportedly are studying at Virginia Tech.

Yonhap wire service reported that at least two fellow Koreans appeared to be among Cho’s victims.

Posters on local Web sites said Korean-Americans are concerned about a backlash.

“We have established safety measures for ethnic Koreans in the U.S. in case of contingencies and are in close consultations with all of our diplomatic missions and Korean communities in the U.S. to implement the measures,” Cho Byung-jae said on television.

In 1992, Koreatown in Los Angeles the center of riots after the police beating of Rodney King and the acquittal of officers involved.

Considerable soul-searching took place in South Korea after the riots, with some questioning whether exploitative Korean-American business practices had angered the Hispanic and black communities, making Korean shop owners a primary focus of attacks.

Although mass gun killings are rare in South Korea because of the difficulty of acquiring firearms, the country was the scene of what may be the deadliest shooting spree in modern history. In 1982, a drunk policeman, Woo Bum-gon, killed 57 persons before turning the gun on himself after an argument with his girlfriend.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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