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(2nd LD) N.K. stages massive military parade on founder's birthday

2017/04/15 11:44

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details throughout

SEOUL, April 15 (Yonhap) -- North Korea staged a massive military parade on Saturday to mark the 105th birthday of late state founder Kim Il-sung amid growing tensions on the divided peninsula over its nuclear and missile programs.

Flanked by senior party and military officials, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspected the parade at a Pyongyang square named after his grandfather, according to live footage aired by the state TV broadcaster.

Wearing a black suit, Kim returned a salute by goose-stepping soldiers marching through the square. He did not deliver a speech.

"The most powerful and cutting-edge striking and defense means in our own style lined up to put an end to military supremacy claimed by imperialists," the Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station said.

This image captured from footage by North Korea's state TV broadcaster on April 15, 2017, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presiding over a military parade held in Pyongyang to mark the 105th birthday of late founder Kim Il-sung. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap) This image captured from footage by North Korea's state TV broadcaster on April 15, 2017, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presiding over a military parade held in Pyongyang to mark the 105th birthday of late founder Kim Il-sung. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

The country's biggest national holiday, called the Day of the Sun, came amid growing speculation that Pyongyang could conduct its sixth nuclear test or launch missiles around key anniversaries in April.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have risen amid concerns over the United States' possible pre-emptive strike against North Korea. Washington has sent Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and its navy strike group to water near the region in a show of force.

The North's military on Friday warned of the "toughest" counteraction against what it called Washington's hysteria.

Ranking party official Choe Ryong-hae said that North Korea is ready for a war if the U.S. takes military action.

"We will respond with an all-out war to (the U.S. attempt) for a full-scale war and nuclear attacks with nuclear strikes," Choe said in a speech.

North Korea is seen as trying to flex its military muscle through the parade in an apparent bid to show the international community that it remains unscathed by tough international sanctions.

North Korea's military parade has been closely watched by outside experts to get a glimpse of the North's latest additions to its missile program and other new military equipment.

North Korea's last parade was held in October 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Worker's Party of Korea. It staged a similar lavish parade in 2012 to mark the centenary of Kim Il-sung's birth. The country unveiled an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) known as the KN-08 for the first time at that time.

The North's leader said in his New Year's message that the country has entered the final stage of preparing to launch an ICBM capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

The country has vowed to permanently seek the dual pursuit of nuclear weapons and economic growth, commonly known as the "byongjin policy."

   North Korea is known to have invited about 200 foreign journalists to let them cover the country's celebrations of the key national holiday.

On Thursday, it opened a new residential zone lined with skyscrapers, called Ryomyong Street.

"Ryomyong Street is an accomplishment that the North wants to promote on the economic front," said an official at Seoul's unification ministry. "It may hope to show something to display its nuclear and missile capabilities."

   Meanwhile, Kim Won-hong, a former spy chief, showed up at the parade, the first public appearance since his dismissal in mid-January following the ruling party's probe into the spy agency, according to Seoul's unification ministry.

He appeared wearing the badge of a general on his suit in an indication that he might have been reinstated. Kim's military rank was demoted to major general due to the dismissal.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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