US, South Korea launch new round of naval drills

Ten ships and 1,700 troops from both nations were taking part in the five-day manoeuvres off South Korea's west coast, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

The United States Forces Korea said the war exercise, while defensive in nature, was to "enhance inter-operability and designed to send a clear message of deterrence to North Korea".

State-run media in North Korea Sunday said the drills were a "military provocation" aimed at "mounting a pre-emptive attack" on the Stalinist state. North Korea usually criticises joint US-South Korean military exercises as preparations for an attack.

The exercise was originally scheduled for early September but was postponed because of a typhoon and now has begun a day before the biggest meeting of the North's ruling Workers Party in 30 years.

Observers said they believe 68-year-old dictator Kim Jong Il plans to formally install his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, in an important party position in preparation for his eventual succession.

The military drills are the second in a series of manoeuvres planned by the US and South Korea and smaller in scale than a previous exercise conducted in the Sea of Japan in July.
Ties between the two Koreas soured after the sinking of a South Korean corvette in March, which killed 46 sailors and which Seoul and Washington blamed on North Korea. Pyongyang denied any responsibility for the incident.

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