NK-air raid alert

SEOUL, March 21 (Yonhap) -- North Korea issued air raid alerts and ordered its military to take immediate action, the country's state media outlet said Thursday.

Korean Central Television, a TV and radio broadcaster, issued the alert at 9:30 a.m. and ordered military personnel and civilians to take cover. It added authorities called on the armed forces to take swift countermeasures to reduce damage before officially sounding the alert at 10:30 a.m.

The broadcaster did not say if an attack is under way or expected, a clear indication that it was a drill. The North had carried out similar annual air raid drills in the 1990s, and ordered blackouts during nighttime exercises.

Other news outlets such as the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and Chosun Central TV did not report on the alert.

South Korea's military confirmed the North had carried out a drill.

"The drill may be in response to the earlier deployment of a U.S. B-52 bomber over South Korea," an officer at the Joint Chief of Staff said. He added that the alert is similar to civil defense air raid drills carried out by Seoul.

North Korea's military high command said in a report carried by the KCNA earlier in the day that Pyongyang has to respond to provocations like the use of B-52 bombers and the arrival of the U.S.S. Cheyenne, a Los Angeles class nuclear-powered attack submarine, in South Korea.

"If our enemies threaten us with nuclear weapons, we will respond with greater nuclear might and our resolve should not be taken lightly," he stressed.

A unification ministry official, meanwhile, speculated that the drill may have been aimed at raising public awareness of tensions on the Korean Peninsula caused by the Feb. 12 detonation of a nuclear device by the North.

He also said that the North carried out air alert exercises, although it is rare for them to be announced on the radio.

"In the past they used the nationwide cable broadcasting link to issue such alerts," he said.

He stressed that it is time for the North to give up any plans and resist the temptation to commit further provocations. Instead, the communist country should make the right choice to ease tensions.

"If the country makes right choices, Seoul is ready to begin the bilateral trust building process," he said.

The new Park Geun-hye administration that took office late last month has embraced a "trustpolitik" doctrine to normalize inter-Korean relations that have been rocked by uncertainties in the past.

The doctrine calls for the building of mutual respect by keeping all promises to create more stable relations. Such developments can spur greater economic cooperation between the two Koreas and benefit all sides.

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