North Korea held mass celebrations for its latest successful long-range missile test, Pyongyang's state media said Saturday, with the regime accusing Washington of "begging for nuclear war" over planned military drills.
To celebrate the missile launch the ruling Workers Party's official daily Rodong Sinmun covered its front page with color photographs showing thousands of tightly packed soldiers and people applauding in Pyongyang's Kim Il-Sung square, which was decorated with large portraits of the North's late leaders.
"We heartily celebrate the successful test launch of the Hwasong-15 which showed Chosun (North Korea)'s power and greatness to the whole world", read one banner held up by the crowd, referring to the missile.
North Korea on Wednesday successfully tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile, with leader Kim Jong-Un declaring his country had now achieved full nuclear statehood.
The US in response warned that Kim Jong-Un's regime would be "utterly destroyed" if its pursuit of a long-range nuclear missile arsenal provokes a military clash.
Washington is battling to maintain international solidarity in the face of the North nuclear threat after Russia warned that sanctions have failed and China side-stepped talk of an oil embargo.
On Saturday Russia's Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated his country's condemnation of the missile test. However, he added: "It is impossible for us not to condemn the provocations by our American colleagues. And, much to our regret, that they try to pull the Japanese and the South Koreans in the same direction. They will be the first victims if a war is started on the Korean peninsula."
Tensions are expected to rise further in the coming week as South Korea and the United States launch a massive air force drill mobilizing some 230 aircraft including six US F-22 Raptor stealth jet fighters.
Commenting that the planned maneuvre would be the "largest-ever" such drill, a spokesman for the North's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Saturday: "The Trump team is begging for nuclear war by staging an extremely dangerous nuclear gamble on the Korean peninsula."
"The facts above evidently show who is the real nuclear war maniac and the 'nuclear demon' that disrupts and destroys peace of the Korean peninsula and the world," the statement added, the North's official news agency KCNA reported.
- "Long live Kim Jong-Un"-
Kim himself was absent from the Friday's celebrations -- he usually stays away from such events -- but the gathering drew key military, party and government leaders.
"Long Live the General Kim Jong-Un who has brought us the great historic cause of nuclear statehood", another banner read.
Vice Chairman Pak Kwang-Ho of the party's decision-making Central Committee told the crowd that, after Wednesday's test launch, "now no one can infringe our sovereignty and rights to survive and develop", according to the daily.
He said that the United States had been "jolted" at the strengthening of North Korea's nuclear force and could attempt to commit "robber-like" provocative acts.
He repeated Kim's warning that the North would respond with the "highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history".
Kim first made the threat in September in response to Trump's UN speech threatening to destroy the North and mocking him as "Little Rocket Man".
The ICBM Hwasong-15 type weaponry system used in Wednesday's test is an intercontinental ballistic rocket tipped with super-large heavy warhead capable of striking the whole mainland of the US, the North said.
But analysts remain unconvinced that the North has mastered the technology required to launch and direct a missile, and ensure it survives the difficult re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. (**)