x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Defiant North Korea celebrates founder's anniversary

The North has threatened for weeks to attack the United States, South Korea and Japan after new UN sanctions were imposed in response to its latest nuclear arms test in February.

SEOUL // North Korea celebrated the 101st anniversary of its founder's birth with flowers yesterday, although there was no sign of tension easing as South Korea warned that the North's survival could be in question without change and development.

The North has threatened for weeks to attack the United States, South Korea and Japan after new UN sanctions were imposed in response to its latest nuclear arms test in February.

The United States has offered talks, but on the precondition that North Korea abandons its nuclear weapons ambitions. North Korea deems its nuclear arms a "treasured sword" and has vowed never to give them up.

South Korea's defence ministry said it remained on guard against any missile launch to coincide with the Day of the Sun, the date state founder Kim Il-sung was born, although such fears appeared unjustified as the day passed.

"The military is not easing up on its vigilance on the activities of the North's military with the view that they can conduct a provocation at any time," a ministry spokesman said.

In Pyongyang, the anniversary was marked with a festival of flowers named after Kim, the grandfather of the North's unpredictable new leader, Kim Jong-un.

In contrast to tirades against its enemies, including threats of nuclear war, North Korean state media made no mention of preparations for conflict yesterday.

KCNA, the North's news agency, reported that people were flocking to a statue of Kim Il-sung, uttering: "My father, our great leader."

"This sincere expression comes from the bottom of their hearts," it said.

Kim Il-sung was born in 1912 and led his country from its founding in 1948, through the 1950-53 Korean War and until he died in 1994. His son, Kim Jong-il, then took over.

Expectations had been that Kim Il-sung's birthday would be marked with a mass parade to showcase the North's military might, but there was no immediate word if that was happening. In 2012, following the death of his father, Kim Jong-un made a public speech, the first in living memory for a North Korean leader.

The South Korean unification ministry, which oversees relations with the North, said it was "regrettable" that the North rejected an offer of talks, made last week by President Park Geun-hye. It said the offer would remain on the table.