North Korea flexed its military muscle, showing off an array of strategic new missiles in a military parade presided over by leader Kim Jong-un, amid high military tensions over the deployment of a powerful US strike group in Northeast Asia.
The high-profile parade, broadcast live by Pyongyang's state television, was staged on the square at the center of Pyongyang to celebrate the birth anniversary of North Korea's late president and founder Kim Il-Sung.
Tens of thousands of citizens in Pyongyang waved pink and red paper flowers enthusiastically as vehicles carrying missiles rolled through the square, including a large cylindrical missile-type tube painted with camouflage patterns that sparked speculation among outside watchers.
It was hard to ascertain the type of the new weapon, which was made public for the first time, but the South's Yonhap News Agency quoted military officials as saying a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) or its launcher appeared to be shown.
Also on display were a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and a new intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) called "Pukguksong-2".
In February, North Korea claimed to have successfully launched a Pukguksong-2 missile with an improved solid fuel engine capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. Pyongyang said the Pukguksong-2 missile was based on an SLBM launched in August last year.
The North's SLBM program has been a prime security concern in Seoul and Washington, though US experts believe Pyongyang is still years away from the operational deployment of a submarine carrying ballistic missile for wartime missions.
Choe Ryong-hae, a former general and senior party official, vowed to fight back against any US military strike. "If the United States makes a reckless provocation, we will respond with an all-out war," he said in a speech.
North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile tests triggered tough UN sanctions but Kim Jong-un has vowed to step up the development of atomic bombs.
"Our toughest counteraction against the United States and its vassal forces will be taken in such a merciless manner as not to allow the aggressors to survive," the North's military said in a statement published on late Friday.
It blasted US President Donald Trump for entering " the path of open threat and blackmail" against North Korea, referring to the American strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier sailing near waters off the Korean Peninsula.
Trump tweeted last week that North Korea is "looking for trouble". He warned that the United States would consider unilateral action if Beijing refuses to cooperate, triggering concern about a possible US pre-emptive strike against North Korea. Seoul has ruled out any unilateral military action by US troops.
Lim Chang-won = cwlim34@ajunewscom