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After weeks of North Korean fury, calm on key holiday

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Koreans celebrated the birthday of their first leader Monday by dancing in plazas and snacking on peanuts, with little hint of the fiery language that has kept the international community fearful that a missile launch may be imminent.

North Korea fired off a rocket ahead of the last anniversary of first leader Kim Il Sung's birth — the centennial — but this time the day was simply the start of a two-day holiday for Pyongyang residents who spilled into the streets.

Girls in red and pink jackets skipped along streets festooned with celebratory banners, and boys on inline skates took a break to slurp up bowls of shaved ice.

There was no sense of panic in the North Korean capital, where very few locals have access to international broadcasts and foreign newspapers speculating about an imminent missile launch and detailing the international diplomacy under way to try to rein North Korea in.

Elsewhere in the region, the focus remained on the threat of a launch as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up a tour to coordinate Washington's response with China, North Korea's most important ally, as well as with South Korea and Japan.

In Seoul, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin told parliament on Monday that North Korea still appeared poised to launch a missile from its east coast, though he declined to give the source of his information.

Kerry had warned North Korea not to conduct a missile test, saying it would be a provocation. He said Sunday that the United States was "prepared to reach out," but that Pyongyang must first bring down tensions and honor previous agreements.

Pyongyang's media gave little indication Monday of the tensions. The Rodong Sinmun, the Workers' Party newspaper, featured photos and coverage of current leader Kim Jong Un's visit to the Kumsusan mausoleum to pay respects to his grandfather.

North Korean military personnel and civilians pause in front of a giant statue of the country’s first leader, Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang. His birthday was observed Monday, a holiday.

North Korean military personnel and civilians pause in front of a giant statue of the country’s first leader, Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang. His birthday was observed Monday, a holiday.

After weeks of North Korean fury, calm on key holiday 04/15/13 [Last modified: Monday, April 15, 2013 11:23pm]
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