North Korea in holiday mode amid missile fears

North Korea has not specified plans to fire a missile or carry out another nuclear test, but has warned that it has weapons on standby.

Updated: Apr 12, 2013, 16:08 PM IST

Pyongyang: North Koreans crowded a Pyongyang flower show, packed theatres and pledged loyalty to their leader on Friday ahead of a key national holiday, while the top US diplomat landed in rival South Korea for talks on how to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

As US and South Korean troops braced for what some feared may be an imminent North Korean missile launch, US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Seoul today for talks with South Korean officials before continuing on to China.

Hours earlier, President Barack Obama demanded an end to the escalating war rhetoric from Pyongyang. In his first public comments since North Korea warned of a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula, Obama called it time for the isolated nation "to end the belligerent approach they have taken and to try to lower temperatures."

"Nobody wants to see a conflict on the Korean Peninsula," Obama said yesterday, speaking from the Oval Office alongside UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

North Korea has not specified plans to fire a missile or carry out another nuclear test, but has warned that it has weapons on standby and would be prepared to strike if provoked by the US and South Korea, its Korean War foes.

The torrent of war cries is seen outside Pyongyang as an effort to raise fears and pressure Seoul and Washington into changing their North Korea policies, and to show the North Korean people that their young leader is strong enough to stand up to powerful foes.

US and South Korean troops have been conducting annual joint military drills in the South since early March, including bringing out nuclear-capable stealth bombers and fighter jets in what the Air Force acknowledged was a deliberate show of force.

The escalation of tensions comes as North Korea is celebrating a slew of first anniversaries for its young leader, Kim Jong Un, who took power in December 2011 following the death of his father, longtime leader Kim Jong Il. He was named head of the Workers` Party a year ago yesterday, and will mark his first year as head of the National Defence Commission, the top government body, on Saturday.

North Koreans also have begun celebrating the April 15 birthday of Kim`s grandfather, Kim Il Sung. The birthday is considered the most important of national holidays designed to cement loyalty to the ruling Kim family.