Days after Seoul resumed blasting K-pop and derisive messages about Kim Jong-un's wife across the DMZ in response to North Korea's latest nuclear test, Pyongyang escalated the propaganda war by raining leaflets on South Korea that compared President Park Geun-hye to a zombie and threatened to "obliterate" the Kim regime's enemies.
South Korean police retrieved as many as 50,000 propaganda leaflets on Tuesday that were scattered across the Dobong district in northern Seoul, according to the Yonhap news agency. Another 2,000 leaflets were reportedly found in the South Korean capital's western Mapo district. Some reports said the North Korean military used balloons to launch as many as 1 million leaflets across the border, with most of the materials landing in South Korea's northern Gyeonggi province.
Images of the leaflets posted online showed a variety of blustery messages, many of which focused on the South Korean propaganda broadcasts. "Let us beat to death Park Geun-hye's gang of dogs for resuming propaganda broadcasts and deteriorating North-South relations!" one leaflet said.
Another proclaimed: "Stop the idiocy of provoking the North and endangering your own safety!"
"Psychological warfare against the North is lighting the fuse of war," said one message translated by the BBC. "Stop the loudspeaker broadcasts immediately!"
On January 8, two days after North Korea tested a nuclear weapon that it claims was a hydrogen bomb, South Korea began using banks of high-powered speakers to blare a mix of K-pop hits and anti-Kim regime commentary across the DMZ, the heavily fortified border that has divided the two countries since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
The messages, which can carry up to 15 miles, proclaimed that the nuclear test is making North Korea more "isolated and turning it into the land of death," and slammed the North Korean leader's taste for luxury goods. "Clothes for Kim Jong-un and Ri Sol-ju cost tens of thousands dollars each and her purse is worth thousands of dollars too," a male announcer said, referencing Kim's wife.
North Korea has reportedly tried to drown out the broadcasts with its own loudspeakers positioned on the border, according to NK News. South Korea is now said to be considering installing electronic signs along the border to display propaganda messages and videos.
The leaflet drop coincided with a visit to South Korea on Tuesday by Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, the second-highest ranking US diplomat. Blinken was set to meet for two days with top South Korean officials about how to respond to the nuclear test. Blinken was coming from Japan and scheduled to visit Beijing next as part of a regional tour.
Some of the North Korean propaganda messages focused on South Korea's alliance with the US, including one that said "America, give up your anachronistic anti-North Korean policy immediately!"
Several of the messages were directed at Park, the first woman to be elected president of South Korea. The BBC said it found one leaflet that called Park "human filth" and featured a cartoon her being thrown into a garbage can. Another leaflet posted posted on the photo-sharing site Imgur showed half of Park's face photoshopped to look like a skeleton, and described a speech she gave last year and other remarks as "insane ramblings of a half-corpse."
Pyongyang is infamous for its saber-rattling propaganda, which occasionally veers into racist or sexist attacks on foreign leaders. The regime has previously called Park a "prostitute" and compared President Barack Obama to a monkey.
Beyond the intensified war of words, the fallout from the North's nuclear test has included a push by the US and its allies to tighten the economic sanctions that have already been imposed on Pyongyang.
The so-called Hermit Kingdom is also reportedly taking steps to further isolate its citizens by blocking cellphone signals along the Chinese border and increasing patrols to catch would-be defectors. According to data released this month, 1,277 North Koreans fled to the South last year, down 120 from 2014 and the fewest since 2002.
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Watch the VICE News documentary Launching Balloons into North Korea: Propaganda Over Pyongyang: