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(3rd LD) N. Korean leader orders nuclear weapons to be made ready for use

All News 14:49 March 04, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS Seoul government's response to Kim's rhetoric against Park in paras 14-15)

SEOUL, March 4 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered the country's nuclear weapons to be made ready for use at a "moment's notice," its state media reported on Friday.

He also said the communist state will upgrade its military posture so that it can be ready to carry out pre-emptive attacks, stressing that the current situation has become "very precarious," according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Kim made the remarks while attending the North's test-firing Thursday of a new multiple launch rocket system during his "field guidance," the KCNA said.

The KCNA did not mention the exact time and venue of the test. But Seoul officials believe it took place in the North's eastern coastal city of Wonsan on Thursday when the North was seen firing six short-range projectiles into the East Sea.

The North Korean leader has put his military on high alert as South Korea and the U.S. are poised to stage their annual military drills this month. Pyongyang has criticized the planned allied drills as intended to "decapitate" its leadership.

The new artillery system, tested on Thursday, appears to be a 300-millimeter-caliber multiple launch rocket system, Seoul officials said. The system is thought to have a range of 200 kilometers -- far enough to strike South Korean and U.S. military installations well beyond the Seoul metropolitan area.

Kim ordered his military to "promptly" deploy the advanced artillery system, the KCNA said.

Over the last three years, Kim has attended the testing of the new multiple rocket launcher a total of 13 times, the North's media said, noting his keen interest in the development of the formidable weapons system.

Kim's provocative remarks came more than a day after the United Nations Security Council passed a new sanctions resolution penalizing the country for its fourth nuclear test and long-range missile launch earlier in the year.

The North's increasingly bellicose rhetoric raised concerns that Pyongyang could launch yet another provocation.

During his observation, Kim even mounted a direct verbal attack against South Korean leader Park Geun-hye without addressing her as president. Seoul officials said that it was "rare" that Kim openly denounced her.

"Park Geun-hye is playing a reckless game of a military buildup while talking of a pre-emptive strike," he was quoted by the KCNA as saying. "This is a foolish act just like running into fire with brushwood."

On Thursday, Park stressed the need for international cooperation in stopping the "tyranny" in the North that suppresses freedom and the human rights of North Koreans.

Seoul's ministries of unification and national defense condemned Kim's criticism of Park, calling it "verbal terrorism."

"We hope that (the North) will depart from the same old attitude of slandering our head of state with vulgar language and take a stance that improves cross-border relations," Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee told reporters.


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