Peace protests have been held in South Korea as Seoul and Washington launch their latest round of war games in the Korean peninsula.
The demonstrators argue the military drills are fuelling tensions with the Communist north and angering regional power China.
But officials have said the exercises, which are expected to involve tens of thousands of US and South Korean military personnel, are defensive and aimed at better coordinating forces.
Tensions in the region have been high since the sinking of a South Korean warship allegedly by the North in March.
Speaking at a ceremony yesterday to mark the Korean peninsula’s independence from Japan the South’s president Lee Myung-bak called on Pyonyang to improve ties and outlined a plan for eventual re-unification between the two divided neighbours.
But, Kim Jong-il’s regime remains defiant. It has threatened a ‘merciless counterblow’.