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SEOUL — Bristling at suggestions that it is just engaging in brinksmanship and propaganda, North Korea says the world should take its threats seriously, claiming it just has to push a button to launch missiles that will turn the U.S. mainland and bases in the Pacific into a “sea of fire.”

The rogue nation also swears South Koreans are panicking at the prospect of war and that foreigners have been “thrown into chaos” as they scramble to get out of South Korea, even though no signs of either panic or evacuations have followed the North’s warning Tuesday that they should take shelter or flee.

The U.S. State Department continues to maintain there is no need to evacuate Americans, nor should those coming to the peninsula change their plans or take any special security precautions.

By dismissing Pyongyang’s warning that nuclear war is imminent, North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said South Korean officials, experts and media outlets are “resorting to (a) smear propaganda campaign to seek its comfort by forcing others into death.”

“Now South Koreans buy out food and daily necessities out of extreme war-phobia,” the government-controlled Korean Central News Agency quoted the committee as saying.

There have been occasional stories about South Koreans stocking up on food staples a bit more than usual because of the continuing rhetoric coming out of North Korea, but supermarkets have not reported panic buying. While people are keeping a wary eye on the news, they mostly seem to be taking the situation in stride, having heard the “sea of fire” threat for two decades.

“Several countries are taking measures to provide shelter or evacuate their people residing in South Korea, and foreign students, businessmen and institutions are thrown into chaos, trying to find their way out of South Korea,” the KCNA report said.

But no countries or institutions here have started any formal evacuations. At most, reports suggest small numbers of foreigners have left the peninsula, and officials from some countries are saying they are drawing up plans to evacuate their countrymen should the need arise.

For example, The Jakarta Post daily quoted a government official this week saying a list of the 30,000 Indonesians in South Korea was being compiled, and women, children and the elderly will be given priority if an evacuation order is given.

The English-language newspaper Inside Costa Rica reported that the nation’s embassy in Seoul has triggered “a security protocol” that puts plans in place to evacuate its 300-plus countrymen in South Korea should a conflict start.

There are more than 100,000 Americans - not including the 28,500 U.S. servicemembers stationed here - living in South Korea. In all, close to 1.5 million foreigners reside in the country.

Angered by United Nations sanctions slapped on the cloistered country in the wake of missile and nuclear tests, as well as ongoing joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises on the peninsula, North Korea has made a number of provocative moves and sabre-rattling statements in recent weeks.

It has declared void the armistice that effectively ending the Korean War; pulled its workers out of an industrial complex near the Demilitarized Zone run jointly by the two Koreas; and said it considers itself in a “state of war.”

The U.S. and South Korea have warned they are prepared to respond sternly to any provocation, but have essentially dismissed much of the rhetoric coming from North Korea as bellicose bluster.

The North Korean committee quoted by KCNA said those suggesting the North’s threats were just propaganda or brinksmanship are “letting loose absurd remarks.”

“War can break out (at) any moment and what remains to be done is (the) merciless punishing of the enemies,” the committee said.

Preparations for missile strikes on the U.S. mainland and American military bases in the Pacific, it said, have already been made. “Just pressing the button will be enough to turn the strongholds of the enemies into (a) sea of fire,” it said.

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