N. Korea New Threats Over Protests in South

N. Korea New Threats Over Protests in South, North Korea issued new threats against South Korea on Tuesday, vowing "sledge-hammer blows" of retaliation if South Korea did not apologize for anti-North Korean protests the previous day when the North was celebrating the birth of its founding leader.

The North also rejected what it called "cunning" U.S. overtures for talks, saying it will not be humiliated into being dragged to sit at the negotiating table by Washington.

But a senior U.S. military official in South Korea said the North Korean leadership was looking for a way to cool down its rhetoric after weeks of warnings of war.

On Monday, the North dropped its shrill threats against the United States and South Korea as it celebrated the 101st anniversary of the birth of its first leader, Kim Il-Sung, raising hopes for an easing of tension in a region that has for weeks seemed on the verge of conflict.

But the North's KCNA news agency said on Tuesday the North Korean army had issued an ultimatum to the South after rallies in the South on Monday at which portraits of North Korea's leaders were burned.

"Our retaliatory action will start without any notice from now," KCNA reported, citing military leaders of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), as North Korea is officially known.

The North's Foreign Ministry also rejected what it said was cunning U.S. scheming aimed at defusing tensions on the Korean peninsula with an offer of talks while deploying military assets capable of launching nuclear strikes against it.

"We do not oppose dialogue but we will not sit down at talks table in humiliation against opponents who are swinging the nuclear club against us," an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman said in comments carried by the KCNA news agency.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Seoul last week that Washington was open to dialogue with Pyongyang on the condition that the talks would lead to eliminating nuclear arsenal from the North.

South Korean media reported several small demonstrations in the capital, Seoul, on Monday. One television station showed pictures of a handful of protesters burning a portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Small counter-protests, by South Koreans calling for dialogue with the North, were also held, media reported.

The North has threatened nuclear attacks on the United States, South Korea and Japan after new U.N. sanctions were imposed in response to its latest nuclear arms test in February.

The North has also been angry about annual military exercises between U.S. and South Korean forces, describing them as a "hostile" act. The United States dispatched B52 and B2 stealth bombers from their bases to take part.

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