- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korea plans to send a team to this year’s University Games in South Korea, organizers said Thursday.

The news comes as North Korea is angrily reacting to this week’s start of annual South Korea-U.S. military drills that the North calls a rehearsal for invasion. The North’s army has threatened to launch unspecified “merciless strikes” against South Korea and the U.S.

The University Games’ organizing committee said in a statement that North Korea wants to send 75 athletes and 33 sports officials to the multi-sport event in the South Korean city of Gwangju from July 3-14. The North’s intention was conveyed Tuesday via the International University Sports Federation, it said.

The North wants to compete in eight events, including women’s football, table tennis and judo, according to the statement.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with North Korea, said Thursday it plans to approve the North’s participation in the games.

The University Games is an Olympic-style event, with about 20,000 athletes from 170 countries competing in 21 events.

North Korea boycotted the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Summer Olympics, both held in Seoul, but has since attended several other events in the South, including last year’s Asian Games in Incheon.

It’s unclear whether the North will take part in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Analysts say North Korea’s participation in international sports events serves as a chance for the isolated country to show off its athletes espousing their devotion to leader Kim Jong Un so he can solidify his grip on power.

The two Koreas remain divided along the world’s most heavily fortified border since the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

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