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(LEAD) N. Korea media warns of 'catastrophe' over joint S. Korea-U.S. drills

All Headlines 23:19 August 17, 2017

(ATTN: ADDS North Korean body's criticism in last 4 paras)

SEOUL, Aug. 17 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's official media lambasted South Korea and the United States on Thursday, accusing them of driving the situation on the Korean Peninsula into a "catastrophe" by holding joint military exercises against it.

South Korea and the U.S. are set to hold annual military drills, dubbed "Ulchi-Freedom Guardian," from next week. They called the joint exercises defensive in nature, but North Korea has long denounced them as a rehearsal for a nuclear war against it.

In a commentary, the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the joint military drills between South Korea and the U.S. would "further drive the situation on the Korean Peninsula into a catastrophe."

North Korea, which raised global alarm bells last month by successfully conducting two ICBM tests, has always been sensitive to any military moves by Seoul and Washington. The Koreas are still technically at war, with no peace treaty signed at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

The latest South Korea-U.S. military drills come after tensions spiked from North Korea's threat to launch missiles into waters near the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.

Separately, a North Korean body criticized South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Thursday for strengthening the alliance with the U.S.

In the North's first response to a Liberation Day speech on Tuesday by Moon marking the 1945 end of Japan's colonial rule over Korea, the North's National Reconciliation Council called Moon's pledge to prevent a war on the Korean Peninsula at any cost "sophistry."

The North Korean body urged Moon to pursue peace through an anti-U.S. campaign.

However, the North Korean body did not comment on other issues mentioned in Moon's speech, including a new round of reunions for families divided over the Korean War.

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