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South Korea stages anti-submarine drill

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SEOUL (AP): A fleet of South Korean warships fired artillery and dropped anti-submarine bombs Thursday in a large-scale military exercise off the west coast despite North Korea's warnings that such drills will drive the peninsula to the brink of war.

Tension on the divided peninsula has risen dramatically since a team of international investigators said last week that a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine tore apart and sank a South Korean warship on March 26, killing 46 sailors. South Korean and US troops are on their highest alert since North Korea's second nuclear test in May last year, reports said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged the world to respond to the sinking with a "strong but measured response," calling it an "unacceptable provocation" by North Korea' in Seoul on Wednesday.

South Korea, backed by the US, Japan and other allies, has begun carrying out punitive measures that range from slashing trade and resuming propaganda warfare to barring the North's cargo ships the strongest it can implement short of military action.

North Korea, which flatly denies involvement in the sinking of the Cheonan, responded by threatening to cut ties with South Korea, wage "all-out counter attacks" against psychological warfare operations and bar South Korean ships and airliners from its waters and airspace.

"We will never tolerate the slightest provocations of our enemies, and will answer to that with all-out war," North Korean Maj Gen Pak Chan Su, a Korean War veteran, told broadcaster APTN in Pyongyang. "This is the firm standpoint of our People's Army."

South Korea pressed ahead with anti-submarine drills to boost readiness against any North Korean provocations.

Ten warships, including a 3,500-ton destroyer, fired artillery and other naval guns and dropped anti-submarine bombs off Taean, about 150 kilometres south of Seoul, as part of a one-day exercise, the navy said.

It was the first anti-submarine drill since the Cheonan disaster about 160 kilometres to the north, a navy official said on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.

South Korea is also planning two major joint military drills with the US off the west coast by July in a display of force intended to deter future aggression by North Korea, according to South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff.

North Korean state media, citing the drills, criticised South Korea for "driving the situation to the brink of explosion.

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