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N. Koreans celebrate past leader amid rising tensions

PYONGYANG, North Korea -- Scores of North Koreans of all ages planted trees as part of a forestation campaign -- armed with shovels, not guns. In the evening, women in traditional dress danced in the plazas to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the appointment of late leader Kim Jong Il to a key defense post.

Despite another round of warnings from their leaders of impending nuclear war, there was no sense of panic in the capital yesterday.

Chu Kang Jin, a Pyongyang resident, said everything is calm in the city.

"Everyone, including me, is determined to turn out as one to fight for national reunification . . . if the enemies spark a war," he added, using nationalist rhetoric common among many North Koreans when speaking to the media.

The North's latest warning, issued by its Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, urged foreign companies and tourists to leave South Korea.

"The situation on the Korean Peninsula is inching close to a thermonuclear war due to the evermore undisguised hostile actions of the United States and the South Korean puppet warmongers and their moves for a war against" North Korea, the committee said. State media carried its statement.

There was no sign of an exodus of foreign companies or tourists from South Korea.

White House spokesman Jay Carney called the statement "more unhelpful rhetoric."

The warning appeared to be an attempt to scare foreigners into urging their governments to pressure Washington and Seoul to act to avert a conflict.

Analysts see a direct attack on Seoul as extremely unlikely, and there are no overt signs that North Korea's army is readying for war.

North Korea has been girding for a showdown with the United States and South Korea, its wartime foes, for months. The Korean War ended in 1953 with an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula still technically at war.

After the December launch of a space satellite and an underground nuclear test in February, the UN tightened sanctions on North Korea, drawing Pyongyang's ire. The North accused Washington and Seoul of leading a campaign against it. U.S.-South Korean military drills south of the border have further incensed Pyongyang.

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