PYONGYANG – North Korea was in festive mood on Sunday, a day before the 101st anniversary of the birth of the country’s founder Kim Il Sung, even as it continued to warn of war breaking out on the Korean Peninsula.
The main streets of the capital Pyongyang were decorated with national flags and commemorative signs, while citizens dressed in suits and traditional dress were seen laying flowers before statues of Kim, who died in 1994.
There was even an international marathon, participated in by runners from more than 10 countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya and Ukraine, as well as some 600 North Koreans.
The celebrations are being held at a time of heightened tension in the region over North Korea’s potential test launch of a medium-range ballistic missile to coincide with the birthday of the current 30-year-old leader Kim Jong Un’s grandfather.
Still, there were no tangible signs of an imminent launch in Pyongyang, with ordinary citizens busily preparing to celebrate the national holiday, known as the Day of the Sun.
An annual show featuring Kimilsungia a purple flower of the orchid family named after the late founder, was packed with schoolchildren and many other locals.
About 22,000 pots of the flower were on display along with replicas symbolizing him and North Korea’s goal of becoming a prosperous and powerful country.
“I couldn’t care less about the ongoing tensions (on the Korean Peninsula),” a 43-year-old female citizen said. “What is more important for us is to celebrate our great founder’s long-awaited birthday in the best way.”
North Korea has ramped up its rhetoric and threatened to strike South Korea and the United States, as well as U.S. bases in Japan, since new U.N. Security Council sanctions were imposed on Pyongyang in response to its third nuclear test in February.
On Sunday, North Korea held a national meeting to commemorate the birthday. It was attended by Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, and other senior party, military and government officials, but not the current leader.
The head of the North’s parliament said that the country should develop its army into an “invincible and matchless” one and “bolster both in quality and quantity the nuclear force,” so that it can “wage a stronger all-out action with the U.S. to cope with the prevailing wartime situation,” according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
On Sunday, the news agency also carried a statement slamming the “confrontation policy” of the South Korean authorities and accusing them of creating “an extreme wartime atmosphere” on the Korean Peninsula.
The statement said the North Korean people are “greatly enraged” at the South Korean authorities for insulting the celebrations of the Day of the Sun and hurting the dignity of North Korea’s supreme leadership.
Calling it an “unpardonable hideous provocation,” the statement issued in the name of the Committee for Peaceful Reunification of Korea vowed to carry out “stern punishment” and said “the group of traitors will be wiped out to the last man from this land.”
North Korea also brushed aside South Korea’s recent proposal of dialogue in an attempt to ease the regional tensions, saying that it is a “crafty trick” and “an empty word without any content,” according to a separate report from KCNA.