North Korea celebrates Kim Jong-Il's birthday as it threatens to test a missile and Hillary Clinton heads to the region.
N Korea missile test fears grow
SEOUL // With figure skaters, strange weather patterns, a fresh missile threat and ageing cadres praising a "peerlessly great man", North Korea celebrated leader Kim Jong-il's 67th birthday on Monday. While the North basked in festivities for Mr Kim, who suffered a suspected stroke in August but appears to have recovered, the region was on edge over a possible missile launch. The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on her first overseas visit since taking office, flew to Asia where the reclusive North will be high on her agenda. South Korean media reports say the North has been readying its longest-range Taepodong-2 missile for a test. The North said in its official media today it had the right to fire the rocket, which is supposed to be able to hit Alaska but has never successfully flown. "One will come to know later what will be launched in the DPRK (North Korea)," its official KCNA news agency said. North Korea says the long-range missile is a cornerstone of its peaceful space programme, although experts say it is for military purposes and designed to strike the United States.
In recent weeks, North Korea's harsh rhetoric has increased sharply, including a threat to destroy the wealthy South in anger at the hardline policies of its President Lee Myung-bak. South Korean officials also suspect the North could soon test short-range missiles, aiming to put pressure on Mr Lee to resume massive aid and to get the Obama administration's attention. North Korea has been preparing to test missiles since January, the South's defence minister Lee Sang-hee told parliament, adding he had given commanders in the field authorisation to respond to any North Korean provocation. On Friday, Mrs Clinton offered North Korea a peace treaty, normal ties and aid if it eliminated its nuclear arms programme. There has been no response yet from Pyongyang. She was scheduled to arrive in Japan today on a trip that also takes her to Indonesia, South Korea and China. In North Korea, Kim's birthday means festivals with singing soldiers, dancing in the street, a few extra handfuls of rice for workers and sweets for children. The North said "a mysterious moon halo" was seen above Mt Jong-il just before the birthday. This year, synchronised swimmers and figure skaters performed and a national meeting was held at which the North's nominal number two leader, Kim Yong-nam, said: "The history of humankind has never known such a peerlessly great man as Kim Jong-il." * Reuters