- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 15, 2009

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) - North Korea celebrated the birthday Wednesday of late founding father Kim Il Sung amid international censure over the regime’s threats to restart its nuclear program, expel U.N. inspectors and quit international disarmament talks.

North Korea, which claims it sent a satellite into space April 5 as part of its peaceful space program, reacted angrily Tuesday to U.N. Security Council condemnation of its launch. Diplomats called it a violation of resolutions barring Pyongyang from ballistic missile-related activity, including firing long-range rockets.

The North vowed to boycott the ongoing six-nation talks on nuclear disarmament, kick out inspectors and restart its atomic program. The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog confirmed that Pyongyang has ordered inspectors to remove seals and cameras from its main nuclear complex and to leave the country.

Japan joined Russia and U.S. in urging North Korea to return to disarmament talks involving the four nations, South Korea and China that yielded a 2007 pact calling for Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for aid.

“Based on close cooperation with all countries involved, starting with the U.S., we want to demonstrate progress in the six-party talks,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said Wednesday in Tokyo.

There was no official North Korean response to the international criticism Wednesday, which was celebrated nationwide as the “Day of the Sun” _ a holiday honoring Kim Il Sung’s birth 97 years ago.

North Korea has said it wants to build up the country’s space program by the 2012 milestone centenary of Kim’s birth, and called the controversial launch a step toward that goal. The launch also provided a dramatic backdrop for the start of son Kim Jong Il’s third term as leader months after he reportedly suffered a stroke.

The U.S., Japan and other nations denounced the launch as a furtive test of the regime’s long-range missile technology.

The two Kims are the focus of an intense cult of personality in the nation of 24 million people. Their portraits hang in nearly every room and many North Koreans wear small red lapel pins bearing the elder Kim’s picture. The Kims’ birthdays are treated as important national holidays.

Kim Il Sung, who would have been 97 Wednesday, ruled North Korea for more than four decades until his death from heart failure in 1994. Known as the “Great Leader,” he remains the country’s “eternal president” even now while his son leads as chairman of the National Defense Commission.

On Wednesday, North Koreans laid bouquets at the foot of Pyongyang’s giant statue of Kim Il Sung. Senior government officials, Workers’ Party members and military officials also visited the Kumsusan Memorial Palace where Kim’s embalmed body lies in state, the official Korean Central News Agency said.

For weeks, North Korea has been leading up to the “Day of the Sun” with film and music festivals, athletic competitions, art exhibitions and a flower show featuring the late founder’s namesake “kimilsungia” orchid.

Two Christian bands from the U.S., the Nashville, Tennessee-based classical-fusion Annie Moses Band and Grammy Award-winning Casting Crowns, were among musicians performing Wednesday at an international festival showcasing dancers, acrobats and musicians from Indonesia to Italy.

“We are there to demonstrate respect for the people and continue to establish relationships,” Mark Hall, lead singer for Casting Crowns, said in a statement last week.

State TV broadcast footage of the late leader and musical odes to the Great Leader. Kim Jong Il also promoted more than 50 military generals Tuesday to mark his father’s birthday, the official Korean Central News Agency said.

In a move bound to further infuriate Pyongyang, South Korea has decided to join the Proliferation Security Initiative, the presidential office confirmed Tuesday. The U.S.-led program aimed at halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction that mainly targets rogue states like North Korea.

Last month, North Korea warned Seoul it would consider its participation in the program “a declaration of war” that raise tensions to a catastrophic level and “bring a nuclear war disaster to the whole nation.”

The North’s No. 2 leader, Kim Yong Nam, warned Tuesday that the North would “mete out a merciless punishment” to any U.S. or South Korean aggressors plotting to attack the country, KCNA said.

Also Wednesday, South Korean activists sent balloons carrying about 100,000 anti-North Korea propaganda leaflets across the border, an action that the North also has long warned would have grave consequences.

The leaflets call North Korea’s April 5 recent rocket launch a disguise of its missile technology test aimed at prolonging the personality cult surrounding leader the two Kims.

___

Associated Press writers Kwang-tae Kim in Seoul, Jin-man Lee at Imjingak and Jay Alabaster in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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