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(2nd LD) N.K. leader orders more nuke tests, readiness for nuclear attacks

All Headlines 11:40 March 11, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES with photo, Seoul's reaction, more info from para 5)

SEOUL, March 11 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered his officials to get ready to carry out nuclear attacks and conduct more nuclear tests, the North's state media said Friday, raising tensions on the divided peninsula.

The North's leader stressed the need to further develop nuclear weapons and diversify the means for delivering nuke warheads so as to "make nuclear strikes at the enemies from anywhere on the ground, in the air, at sea and underwater," the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

"He gave militant tasks to conduct more nuclear explosion tests to estimate the destructive power of the newly produced nuclear warheads and other tests to bolster up the nuclear attack capability," it said.

Kim made the remarks while watching a ballistic rocket launch drill, the KCNA said without disclosing when the drill took place.

The North has ratcheted up its belligerent rhetoric in recent days following a series of sanctions imposed on it, and has threatened to make "pre-emptive attacks" against Seoul and Washington at a moment's notice.

Earlier this week, the North's leader said his country has made nuclear warheads small enough to be mounted on ballistic missiles. Seoul's defense ministry raised doubts about the North's claims.

North Korea has made efforts to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching as far as the U.S. mainland, and the country has insisted that it entered the technological phase to miniaturize and even diversify its nuclear bombs.

South Korea condemned North Korea for raising tensions, calling on the North to refrain from its reckless behavior.

"We are ready to immediately respond to any provocation that North Korea can make," Jeong Joon-hee, a spokesman at the Unification Ministry, told a regular press briefing.

On Thursday, Pyongyang fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea apparently in protest against ongoing joint military drills between South Korea and the United States. The North has long denounced them as a rehearsal for a northward invasion.

Last week, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted a new sanctions resolution punishing the North for its Jan. 6 nuclear test and Feb. 7 long-range rocket launch.

The North said its long-range rocket launch was to send a satellite into orbit, but Seoul and Washington view it as a cover for a banned test of ballistic missile technology.

Experts say long-range rockets and intercontinental ballistic missiles are basically the same, differing only in payload.

Earlier this week, Seoul slapped its own punitive measures on the North, including blacklisting of key North Korean officials and organs, tightening the screws on Pyongyang.

"North Korea is staging a strong protest against the Seoul-Washington military drills and the international community's sanctions," said Chang Yong-seok, a researcher at the Seoul National University Institute for Peace and Unification Studies.

The KCNA said that the North's leader also called for ensuring a "prompt and safe operation of nuclear attack system" in the state of the nation's utmost emergency.

Kim's entourage included Hwang Pyong-so, director of the general political bureau of the Korean People's Army (KPA), it said.

pbr@yna.co.kr

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
(END)

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