North Korea has warned foreign companies and tourists in South Korea to evacuate, saying the two countries are on the verge of a nuclear war. The new threat appeared to be an attempt to scare foreigners into pressing 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, let alone a nuclear one.
In Pyongyang, there were no signs of a military build up. South Korea's military has reported missile movements on North Korea's east coast, but nothing pointed toward 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" the North, said a statement by the North Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, an organisation that deals with regional matters.
The statement is similar to past threats that analysts call an attempt to raise anxiety in foreign capitals. Analysts see the threats of war as a bid to win Pyongyang-friendly policy changes in Seoul and Washington. Last week, North Korea told foreign diplomats in Pyongyang that it will not be able to guarantee their safety starting Wednesday. It is not clear what significance that date holds.
Observers also say the torrent of North Korean prophecies of doom and efforts to raise war hysteria are partly to boost the image and military credentials of young leader Kim Jong Un.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who has sought to re-engage North Korea with dialogue and aid since taking office in February, expressed exasperation at what she called the "endless vicious cycle" of Seoul answering Pyongyang's hostile behaviour with compromise, only to get more hostility.
US and South Korean defence officials have said they have seen nothing to indicate that Pyongyang is preparing for a major military action, and there was no sign of an exodus of foreign companies or tourists from South Korea.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the tensions on the Korean Peninsula as "very dangerous" and said that "any small incidence caused by miscalculation or misjudgment" may "create an uncontrollable situation."
Meanwhile North Korea pulled out more than 50,000 workers from the Kaesong industrial park, which combines South Korean technology and know-how with cheap North Korean labour. It was the first time that production has been shut down at the complex, the only remaining product of economic cooperation between the two countries that began about a decade ago when relations were much warmer.