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Pope to Koreas: Avoid 'fruitless' shows of force

SEOUL -- Pope Francis called Thursday for renewed efforts to forge peace on the war-divided Korean Peninsula and for both sides to avoid “fruitless” criticisms and shows of force, opening a five-day visit to South Korea with a message of reconciliation as Seoul's rival, North Korea, fired five projectiles into the sea.

North Korea has a long history of making sure it is not forgotten during high-profile events in the South, and Thursday's apparent test firing off its eastern coast made its presence felt.

In the first speech of his first trip to Asia, Francis told South Korean President Park Geun-hye and government officials that peace required forgiveness, cooperation and mutual respect. He said diplomacy must be encouraged so that listening and dialogue replace “mutual recriminations, fruitless criticisms and displays of force.”

The Argentine pope spoke in English, the first English speech of his pontificate. Usually he speaks in Italian or his native Spanish, but the Vatican said he would deliver at least four speeches in English on the trip to accommodate his Asian audiences.

North Korea's apparent test firing was conducted from Wonsan on its east coast and the initial three short-range projectiles flew about 220 kilometers (135 miles), according to a South Korean Defense Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing office rules. It wasn't immediately clear what the projectiles were. After an initial three firings an hour before Francis arrived, North Korea followed up with two others a short time after he landed.

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Pope Francis poses with South Korean President Park Geun-hye for photographers at the presidential Blue House in Seoul on Thursday, Aug. 14. (AP)

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