September 8, 2017 / 5:35 AM / 17 days ago

Most South Koreans doubt the North will start a war: poll

FILE PHOTO: South Korean national flags hang on a barbed-wire fence near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea, August 14, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea has ratcheted up international tension and fear with its sixth and largest nuclear test on Sunday, but South Koreans feel increasingly doubtful it would start a war, a poll showed on Friday.

A Gallup Korea survey found that 58 percent of South Koreans felt there was no possibility North Korea will cause a war, while 37 percent said they thought it would.

Gallup Korea began asking South Koreans the question in 1992, and the percentage of respondents this time who thought the North would not start a war was the second highest since then.

In the first poll in 1992, 69 percent of those questioned thought the North would start a war while only 24 percent thought it would not.

The survey released on Friday showed South Koreans were considerably less concerned about war compared with June 2007, nine months after North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, in September 2006.

In 2007, 51 percent of respondents said they expected a war, while 45 percent did not.

North Korea says it needs to develop weapons to protect itself against U.S. aggression.

It has been steadily pursuing its nuclear and missile programs in defiance of international condemnation and has threatened more action in response to any new U.N. sanctions and U.S. pressure.

FILE PHOTO: People carry flags in front of statues of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung (L) and late leader Kim Jong Il during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Despite the North’s fiery rhetoric, South Koreans are generally calm, going about their lives with no sign of panic.

“The survey results show South Koreans have likely grown accustomed to its repeated threats of provocation after over 60 years in a ceasefire state,” Gallup Korea said in a statement.

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South Korea and the United States are technically still at war with North Korea after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.

The poll also found that 60 percent of those surveyed believed South Korea should arm itself with nuclear weapons while 35 percent disagreed.

Those in their twenties were most opposed to the idea of acquiring nuclear weapons, while respondents 50 and above said the South should have them.

Gallup also said 59 percent of respondents were against the idea of the United States attacking North Korea first should North Korean provocations continue, while 33 percent said it should.

Gallup Korea said the poll was carried out from Sept. 5 to 7. A total of 1,004 South Koreans over the age of 19 were polled by telephone, it said.

The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

Reporting by Christine Kim; Editing by Robert Birsel

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