N. Korea slams S. Korea, U.S. over air exercise

SEOUL, April 17 (Yonhap) -- North Korea lashed out at South Korea and the United States on Thursday over their largest-ever air exercise, calling it a grave provocation against Pyongyang.

The North has frequently denounced South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises as a rehearsal for invasion. Seoul and Washington say their annual exercises are defensive in nature.

The exercise "is a grave military provocation that further escalates tense situations on the Korean Peninsula and heightens crisis of a nuclear war," the North's main newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, said in a commentary.

The North's latest accusation came six days after Seoul and Washington launched the annual Max Thunder exercise meant to boost their air defense capability.

The exercise, which will run through next Friday, involves about 103 warplanes and some 1,400 pilots from the two allies.

The commentary, carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency, also defended Pyongyang's move to strengthen its nuclear deterrent to crush what it claims are military challenges posed by South Korea and the U.S.

North Korea has recently threatened to push ahead with countermeasures for self-defense as long as the U.S. persists in its hostile policy. It did not elaborate on what it meant by countermeasures, though experts say they could refer to long-range missile launches or even a nuclear test.

North Korea has also threatened to carry out a "new form" of nuclear test in anger over a condemnation by the United Nations of its ballistic missile launches into the sea off its east coast.

North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013, drawing international condemnation and U.N. sanctions.

About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.

<All rights reserved by Yonhap News Agency>