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North Korea threatens US with nuclear strike

Seoul: North Korea on Saturday threatened to wage a nuclear “holy war of retaliation” if the US and South Korea proceed with joint military exercises on Sunday.

The country’s army and population will “legitimately counter with their powerful nuclear deterrence”, the National Defence Commission – the highest decision-making body in the country – said in a statement released by state media.

The commission insinuated that the US-South Korean exercises amount to training for a nuclear war.

North Korea has routinely threatened to deploy nuclear weapons in the past, for instance last February as the US and South Korea prepared for their annual joint military exercise.

The additional naval and air force exercises, formally announced Wednesday while US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defence Secretary Robert Gates were in Seoul, are meant to deter North Korea’s “aggressive” behaviour in the conflict over the March sinking of a South Korean warship, which Seoul blames on Pyongyang.

The US Navy is capable of defending itself and “clearly it would be very unwise for North Korea to challenge these forces”, a State Department spokesman said.

The four-day manoeuvre in the Sea of Japan is scheduled to start Sunday. According to information from the US, some 8,000 military personnel from both countries will participate, along with 200 planes and 20 ships – including the aircraft carrier USS George Washington.

North Korea’s nuclear threat came one day after a spokesman for the country’s delegation said on the sidelines of an Asian security forum that it would physically respond to the exercises.

The South Korean armed forces have intensified their surveillance of the border between the two countries, the Yonhap news agency reported. But there had yet to be any unusual movements on the North Korean side.

“The army and the population of the People’s Republic will if necessary start at any time a holy war of retaliation, based on nuclear deterrence,” Pyongyang warned Saturday.

All manoeuvres by the US and South Korea are “nothing but outright provocations, with which the People’s Republic is to be in every way crushed through force”, it added.

The Foreign Ministry in Pyongyang also warned the US against new sanctions. A statement said North Korea would expand its nuclear deterrent and resort to “strong physical measures” in response.

While in Seoul, Clinton had announced the tightening of sanctions against the Stalinist state. The move is mainly meant to block financial support for North Korean nuclear-weapon and missile programmes.

The tensions on the Korean Peninsula have drastically increased since the sinking of the South Korean warship, in which 46 sailors died. North Korea has repeatedly denied any involvement.

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