SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea threatened Tuesday to "wipe out" South Korea's government in a furious response a day after a Seoul official said the North "must disappear soon," in an escalation of rhetoric between the rivals.
The North's powerful National Defense Commission called the South Korean comments an "intolerable" provocation that showed the South wants to take over the North.
It said in a statement carried by state media that North Korea will launch "all-out ... merciless" strikes to "wipe out every last person" in South Korean President Park Geun-hye's government.
South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said Monday that North Korea wasn't a real country and existed for the benefit of only one person — a reference to its leader, Kim Jong Un. He said the North has no human rights or public freedoms.
Kim's comments followed a series of slurs by North Korea against the leaders of South Korea and the United States. North Korea's media likened Park to an "old prostitute" and President Barack Obama to a "monkey" in recent dispatches.
South Korea's Defense Ministry said North Korea's military hadn't undertaken any suspicious activities. A ministry official said South Korea is always ready to repel any provocation by the North.
South Korea has been highly critical of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, including recent rocket and missile launches and apparent preparations for a fourth nuclear test. But the comments from Seoul on Monday are stronger than usual. South Korea tries to avoid publicly talking about anything that could be interpreted as a collapse of the North Korean government because of worries that the North would raise tensions.
North Korea has been ramping up its rhetoric against Seoul and Washington since Obama and Park met in Seoul last month. During that visit, Obama said it may be time to consider further sanctions against North Korea and that the U.S. will not hesitate to use its military might to defend its allies.
South Korea has called the North's verbal insults against Park immoral and unacceptable. The U.S. State Department described the North's racist slurs against Obama as "disgusting."
Earlier Tuesday, the North Korean government-run Uriminzokkiri website warned that Kim himself would pay a high price for his comments. "We will not sit idle by while this mad dog keeps ... barking noisily," the website said.