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article imageKim centre stage as N. Korea tensions mount

By AFP     Apr 13, 2017 in World

Officials to the left of him, generals to the right, and in the middle of mounting tensions over his nuclear ambitions, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on Thursday opened a prestige housing project with tens of thousands of his adoring citizens looking on.

Completion of the sprawling Ryomyong Street development, just down a wide avenue from the mausoleum where Kim's grandfather Kim Il-Sung and father Kim Jong-Il lie in state, was repeatedly promised in time for Saturday's 105th anniversary of the birth of the North's founder.

North Korean authorities seek to present their isolated, impoverished country as prosperous and modern, and international media outlets were invited for the occasion.

Soldiers, officials and citizens packed a plaza from early morning, waiting for hours before Kim led the delegation onto the dais.

Prime Minister Pak Pong-Ju lauded Kim, saying the project was a demonstration of "the 'do or die' spirit of our people and army who are willing to implement the Party's orders in all cases", he said, and "a victory against imperialists' sanctions".

The North is under multiple sets of United Nations sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and tensions have soared in recent weeks.

North Korea missile and nuclear sites
North Korea missile and nuclear sites

A barrage of recent North Korean missile tests has stoked fears in Washington that Pyongyang is moving closer to its goal of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the US mainland – something US President Donald Trump has said "won't happen".

Shinzo Abe, prime minister of US ally Japan - in whose exclusive economic zone three North Korean missiles landed in recent weeks, warned Thursday that Pyongyang may have the capacity to launch a warhead loaded with sarin nerve gas.

There is speculation Pyongyang might conduct a sixth nuclear test, or another missile launch, to co-incide with the Kim Il-Sung anniversary – specialist US website 38North described its Punggye-ri test site as "primed and ready" on Wednesday - and Trump has dispatched an aircraft carrier group to the Korean peninsula.

Kim opened a housing project he said was a demonstration of “the  do or die  spirit of his people
Kim opened a housing project he said was a demonstration of “the "do or die" spirit of his people

"We are sending an armada. Very powerful," he told the Fox Business Network.

"We have submarines. Very powerful. Far more powerful than the aircraft carrier."

"He is doing the wrong thing," he added of Kim. "He's making a big mistake."

The North has reiterated its constant refrain that it is ready for "war" with the US.

- 'Reckless invaders' -

The 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty and Pyongyang says that it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against a possible US invasion.

Last week's US missile strike on Syria vindicated its stance, it said at the weekend.

Successive governments in Washington have only attacked states which "do not have nukes", the official KCNA agency quoted a foreign ministry statement as saying, "and the same is true of the Trump administration".

North Korea's sabre-rattling has unnerved China  its sole major ally  but there are no signs of...
North Korea's sabre-rattling has unnerved China, its sole major ally, but there are no signs of tension in Pyongyang
Ed Jones, AFP

"What happened in Syria once again taught a bitter lesson that no one should have an illusion about the imperialists and one can defend oneself from the imperialist aggression only when one has one's strength."

On Thursday, KCNA reported separately that Kim had watched special forces drop from light transport planes "like hail" and "mercilessly blew up enemy targets" during an exercise.

"The contest proved once again that our Korean People's Army... will show a real taste of gun shot and real taste of war to the reckless invaders," KCNA said.

The sabre-rattling has unnerved China, the North's sole major ally, which has made clear its frustration with Pyongyang’s stubbornness but whose priority remains preventing any instability on its doorstep.

Beijing has urged Trump to take a peaceful approach to resolving the issue, but the Global Times newspaper, which sometimes reflects the thinking of the leadership, issued an unequivocal warning to Pyongyang that it should "avoid making mistakes at this time".

A new test would be a "slap in the face of the US government" and Beijing would not "remain indifferent", it said.

On Tuesday, the US president tweeted that "North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A."

But there has been little sign of the tensions on the streets of Pyongyang in recent days, where the focus is on preparations for Saturday's anniversary.

At Ryomyong Street, Kim took a pair of scissors proferred from a tray to cut a wide red ribbon to rhythmic cheers from the crowd, before waving to his admirers, and turning to walk back to his Mercedes limousine.

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