SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea held a big rally on Monday denouncing South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who ended a decade of aid for the impoverished state, and warned of an exchange of "fire" between the two Koreas.
North Korea has accused the South of a policy of confrontation but Lee has brushed that off, demanding a change in what the South sees as the North's belligerent attitude and pursuit of nuclear arms before ties can improve.
The rally in the main square in the center of North Korea's capital, Pyongyang, was attended by more than 100,000 people including senior ruling party, state and military officials, the North's KCNA news agency and KRT television said.
"A Pyongyang city army-people rally took place at Kim Il-sung square on Monday in denunciation of the crimes committed by the Lee Myung-bak group of unparalleled traitors," KCNA said.
Lee became president in 2008 and ended 10 years of free-flowing aid to the North from his left-leaning predecessors by making assistance conditional on moves by Pyongyang to end the development of nuclear arms.
"Now that South Korean confrontation maniacs without equals in the world dared to perpetrate such extreme provocation as not ruling out even a war against (the North), there remains between the North and the South only physical settlement of returning fire for fire," the North's official media said.
State media in tightly controlled North Korea, which has twice tested nuclear devices, routinely denounces leaders of U.S.-backed South Korea with combative language but such big rallies organised to criticize South Korean leaders are rare.
Relations have been seriously strained since last year.
Last November, North Korea fired artillery at a South Korean island killing four people, saying it was provoked by military drills conducted by the South aimed at invading the North.
The attack came eight months after the sinking of a South Korean navy ship with the death of 46 sailors, which South Korean investigators determined North Korea was responsible for. The North denied that.
An attempt to get dialogue going this year broke down and the North has rejected a call by the South to hold a summit meeting to try to resolve the conflict.
More than 1.8 million soldiers, including U.S. forces, are deployed on the Korean peninsula.
(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Robert Birsel)