North Korea staged a massive military parade on Saturday to mark the 105th birthday of late state founder Kim Il-sung in a show of military prowess amid regional tensions over its nuclear and missile programs.
The country flexed its military muscle by stating its readiness to stage a war with the United States and unveiling what appeared to be a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) at the parade held at a Pyongyang square named after leader Kim Jong-un's grandfather.
Flanked by senior party and military officials, Kim inspected the choreographed military pageant, returning a salute by goose-stepping soldiers marching at the square, according to live footage aired by the state TV broadcaster.
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 about a possible pre-emptive strike by the U.S. against North Korea. Washington has sent the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and other warships in a strike group to waters near the region in an apparent show of force.
Choe Ryong-hae, a vice chairman of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), 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 brag about its military power through the parade as it seeks to show the international community that it remains unscathed by tough international sanctions, observers said.
Pyongyang conducted two nuclear tests last year following three previous ones in 2006, 2009 and 2013. It has also fired numerous missiles, including a new intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), called the Pukguksong-2.
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.
A stream of tanks and armored vehicles carrying what looked like ballistic missiles rolled through the square, showed TV footage.
"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 TV station said.
Other than a new type of ICBM, also on display were prototypes of submarine-launched missiles and IRBMs at the parade, Seoul's military said.
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North Korea's last parade was held in October 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the WPK's founding.
It staged a similar lavish parade in 2012 to mark the centenary of Kim Il-sung's birth. The country unveiled the KN-08 ICBM for the first time then.
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 simultaneous pursuit of nuclear development and economic growth, commonly known as the "byongjin policy."
There was speculation that North Korea may conduct another nuclear test as early as Saturday, but seemed to withhold it for a military parade.
However, Pyongyang will mark the 85th anniversary of the military's founding on April 25, a possible occasion for a provocative act.
Seoul said that the North appears all set to carry out a nuclear test at any time upon its leadership's decision.
"North Korea showed off nuclear and missile capabilities through the parade. But it did not cross what is deemed a red line for the U.S. as it apparently refrained from conducting a nuke test or an ICBM launch," said Jo Seong-ryul, a researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy.
Since inheriting power from his father Kim Jong-il in late 2011, Kim Jong-un has strengthened his power with a reign of terror. He assumed two new titles of the top party and state posts last year, reaffirming his one-man leadership.
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 the ministry.
A gaunt-looking Kim appeared wearing the badge of a general on his suit in an indication that he may have been reinstated. Kim's military rank was demoted to major general due to the dismissal.
Also on Saturday, the North Korean leader visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where the embalmed bodies of his late grandfather and father are on display, to pay tribute to them on the key anniversary, according to the TV station. (Yonhap)