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North Korea warns of 'merciless' strike against southern neighbor

SEOUL -- North Korea has threatened a “merciless” strike against the South after activists burned effigies of the ruling Kim dynasty on the anniversary of the death of former leader Kim Jong Il, officials said Friday.

The warning was contained in a message sent Thursday by the secretariat of the National Defense Commission, the North's highest military body, through a military hotline, the South's defense ministry said.

In rallies on Tuesday to mark the second anniversary of the death of Kim Jong Il, South Korean conservative groups burned effigies of young North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, his late father and grandfather.

The North said the rallies had insulted the “highest dignity” of its leadership, and threatened to take “merciless” retaliatory acts without prior warning, the defense ministry said.

“We've sent a reply vowing to react sternly to any provocations by North Korea,” ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters.

The North's threat comes at a time of growing concern over the regime's stability after last week's execution of Jang Song Thaek, a high-level official who was the uncle and former political mentor of Kim Jong Un.

Seoul and Washington have warned of possible provocative acts by the nuclear-armed North.

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