SEOUL, March 4 (Reuters) - North Korea threatened “sacred war” against the South in a huge rally in the capital on Sunday just days after the secretive state agreed with the United States to suspend its nuclear weapons tests and allow back international nuclear inspectors.
Tens of thousands of slogan-chanting North Koreans rallied in Pyongyang vowing to “wipe out” South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s “traitors” whom they accused of defaming their new leader, Kim Jong-un, and of staging inflammatory war games with the United States.
About 150,000 protesters, including many soldiers and students, shouted “Destroy Lee Myung-bak” and “Let’s safeguard Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un”.
The rally, broadcast live by state TV, appeared to be the largest such event since the young Kim took power after the death of long-time dictator Kim Jong-il in December.
Ri Yong-ho, an army general believed to be one of the fledgling leader Kim’s closest confidants in the army, recited a statement issued by the military on Friday, threatening again to wage a “sacred war” against the South.
“The Supreme Command of the Korean People’s Army solemnly declares once again that it will indiscriminately stage its own-style sacred war to wipe out the group of traitors,” Ri read.
The rally ended with a series of military-style marches in groups of hundreds, with protesters waving huge banners and flags in response to cheers from the crowds.
North and South Korea are still technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
Pyongyang’s state media has recently beefed up the rhetoric against South Korea’s Lee and military leaders, accusing them of allowing an army unit to hang portraits of the two Kims and “scrawl unspeakable defamatory words” below them.
The North also accused Lee of “the hideous act aimed at escalating confrontation” during mourning for Kim Jong-il.
South Korean media has said soldiers at a military unit in the western city of Incheon posted the photos of both Kim Jong-un and his father inside a building, along with the inscription: “Let’s kill Kim Jong-un”.
North Korea regularly warns of retaliation against Seoul and Washington for joint military drills, currently under way, which it sees as an unforgivable provocation.
In 2010, the North shelled a South Korean island near the disputed inter-Korean sea border, killing four people, in retaliation for live-fire exercises by the South.
Many North Korea watchers say the sabre-rattling is aimed at consolidating Kim’s grip on power and attaining an advantage in the latest round of disarmament-for-aid talks with the United States.
On Wednesday, Washington and Pyongyang announced the North had agreed to suspend nuclear tests, uranium enrichment and long-range missile launches and to allow checks by international nuclear watchdog inspectors in return for food aid.
The agreement has been hailed as a path to resuming long-stalled six-party talks, joining the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia, designed to block the North from nuclear arms development.
But North Korea has walked out of such talks many times before, claiming lack of sincerity by the United States.
In the latest sabre-rattling, state TV said on Saturday Kim Jong-un had visited Panmunjom, the village overseeing the armistice along the world’s most heavily-fortified border between the two Koreas.
It was Kim’s first trip to the village since his father’s death.
KCNA said Kim told soldiers there to “maintain the maximum alertness as they are standing in confrontation with the enemy at all times”. (Reporting by Sung-won Shim; Editing by Nick Macfie)