RHETPYONGYANG, North Korea (AP):
North Korea delivered a fresh round of rhetoric last Thursday with claims it had "powerful striking means" on standby, hinting at a missile launch, while Seoul and Washington speculated that it is preparing to test a medium-range missile during upcoming national celebrations.
On the streets of Pyongyang, meanwhile, North Koreans shifted into party mode as they celebrated the anniversary of leader Kim Jong Un's appointment to the country's top party post - one in a slew of titles collected a year ago in the months after his father Kim Jong Il's death.
But while there was calm in Pyongyang, there was condemnation in London, where foreign ministers from the Group of Eight nations slammed North Korea for "aggressive rhetoric" that they warned would only further isolate the impoverished nation.
North Korea's provocations, including a long-range rocket launch in December and an underground nuclear test in February, "seriously undermine regional stability, jeopardise the prospects for lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula and threaten international peace and security," the ministers said in a statement.
In the capital of neighbouring South Korea, the country's point person on relations with the North, Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae, urged Pyongyang to engage in dialogue and reverse its decision to pull workers from a joint industrial park just north of their shared border, a move that has brought factories there to a standstill.
"We strongly urge North Korea not to exacerbate the crisis on the Korean Peninsula," Ryoo said.
In the latest threat from Pyongyang, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, a non-military agency that deals with relations with South Korea, said "striking means" have been "put on standby for a launch and the coordinates of targets put into the warheads." It didn't clarify further, but the language suggested a missile.
The statement was the latest in a torrent of warlike threats seen outside Pyongyang as an effort to raise fears and pressure Seoul and Washington into changing their North Korea policy, and to show the North Korean people at home that their young leader is strong enough to stand up to powerful foes.
No military parade or mass events are expected over the coming week, but North Korea historically uses major holidays to show off its military power, and analysts say Pyongyang could well mark the occasion with a provocative missile launch.
"However tense the situation is, we will mark the Day of the Sun in a significant way," Kim Kwang Chon, a Pyongyang citizen, told The Associated Press, referring to the April 15 birthday. "We will celebrate the Day of the Sun even if war breaks out tomorrow."
During last year's celebrations, North Korea failed in an attempt to send a satellite into space aboard a long-range rocket. The United States and its allies criticised the launch as a covert test of ballistic missile technology.
The subsequent launch in December was successful, and that was followed by the country's third underground nuclear test on February 12, possibly taking the regime closer to mastering the technology for mounting an atomic weapon on a long-range missile.