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Page last updated at 10:19 GMT, Thursday, 20 November 2008

Balloon campaign assails N Korea

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South Korean activists launch the huge helium balloons

South Korean activists have sent thousands of propaganda leaflets into North Korea, ignoring threats from the North to sever relations.

Activists launched 10 huge helium balloons, each stuffed with 10,000 flyers critical of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Pyongyang said last week it would close the land border if the acts continued.

Seoul has appealed to activists to stop, but says its free speech laws protect the practice.

Earlier today, 10 South Korean activists gathered on a hillside in freezing rain to release the balloons.

The North has called the leaflet campaign "psychological warfare" and says that it risks provoking military confrontation.

Increasing vitriol

Each bundle of leaflets has its own timing mechanism, readied to burst open at different intervals and scatter the cargo over a wide area north of the heavily fortified border, wind permitting.

Your 'great' leader's last days are approaching. The dictator has collapsed from illness
Leaflet text

"My fellow North Koreans! Do not just sit and die of hunger but fight against Kim Jong-il," read one new leaflet from a group of activists that defected from the North.

It also suggested Mr Kim has had nine wives or consorts and accused him of living in luxury while millions of his people go hungry.

Other pamphlets called for the overthrow of Mr Kim and repeated claims he has suffered a stroke - a highly taboo subject inside the country over which his family has exercised absolute authority for 60 years.

"Your 'great' leader's last days are approaching. The dictator has collapsed from illness," another leaflet said.

'Warfare'

The launches of the giant balloons - each 10m (33 feet) long and a metre in diameter - have worsened already tense relations.

Activists tie plastic bags containing leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on 20 November
The leaflets target ordinary North Koreans, largely cut off from the world
Last week, the North vowed to shut the inter-Korean land border on 1 December, citing the South Korean government's refusal to clamp down on "confrontational" activities, including the leafleting.

The move would cripple a Seoul-funded industrial estate developed in the North as a symbol of reconciliation.

The North also accused the South of violating a 2004 agreement to end decades of cross-border propaganda warfare.

While the Seoul government has halted activities and appealed to activists to stop their campaigns, the balloon launches continue.

The two Koreas technically remain at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, and remain divided by a heavily fortified border.

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