North Korea is holding a massive parade in its capital Pyongyang to mark the 105th birth anniversary of its founding father, Kim Il Sung.
The festivities take place amid concerns the reclusive and unpredictable nation will hold its sixth nuclear test in a decade or a rocket launch of significance, such as its first flight test of an ICBM.
North Korea's state television showed thousands of soldiers marching at Kim Il Sung Square this morning to kick off the event attended by leader Kim Jong Un.
The parade featured some of the country's most valuable military hardware, such as its prototype intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The festivities take place amid concerns that North Korea is possibly preparing its sixth nuclear test in a decade or a rocket launch of significance, such as its first flight test of an ICBM.
Kim, a 30-something leader who took power in late 2011, emphasises nuclear weapons as the foundation of his national defence strategy.
The country under his watch has been aggressively pursuing a goal of putting a nuclear warhead on an ICBM capable of reaching the continental United States.
SHOW OF FORCE
Prototype intercontinental ballistic missiles have highlighted a broad range of military hardware.
North Korean state television showed what appeared to be several KN-08 and KN-14 missiles rolled out on trucks at the parade.
Kim Jong Un watched in delight from a podium.
Military analysts say the missiles could one day be capable of hitting targets as far as the continental United States, although the North has yet to flight test them.
North Korean soldiers also rolled out another large rocket that appeared to be the size of an ICBM, but what a South Korean military analyst said hasn't been seen before.
Other military hardware at the parade included tanks, multiple rocket launchers and artillery guns, as well as a solid-fuel missile designed to be fired from submarines. Also on display was a powerful midrange missile, which outside analysts call "Musudan," and which can potentially reach US air bases in Guam.
A senior North Korean government official says the country is ready to stand up to any threat posed by the United States as he spoke at an immense parade celebrating the birthday of the country's founder Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of current ruler Kim Jong Un.
Choe Ryong Hae, who some presume as the second-most powerful official in North Korea, said Saturday that the new US government under Donald Trump was "creating a war situation" in the Korean Peninsula by dispatching strategic military assets to the region.
The United States a few days ago dispatched what Trump called an "armada" of ships in a show of force, including an aircraft carrier, into waters off the peninsula amid fears that North Korea was preparing another round of nuclear or missile tests.
"We will respond to an all-out war with an all-out war and a nuclear war with our style of a nuclear attack," Choe said during the parade.
Kim saluted as ranks of goosestepping soldiers followed by tanks and other military hardware paraded in Pyongyang for a show of strength with tensions mounting over his nuclear ambitions.
After inspecting an honour guard, Kim, in a black suit, watched the parade pour into Kim Il-Sung Square, accompanied by top military and party leaders, state television showed in a live broadcast.
Led by rows of military bands, columns of troops toting rifles and a troupe of sword-wielding female soldiers marched into the vast square in the heart of the city which was festooned in the national colours of blue, white and red.
"Today's parade will provide a chance to display our powerful military might," a male voiceover said on the TV broadcast.
Ostensibly the event is to mark the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim's grandfather, the North's founder Kim Il-Sung - a date known as the "Day of the Sun" in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the country's official name.
But it is also intended to send an unmistakeable message to Washington, Seoul, Tokyo and other capitals about the isolated, nuclear-armed North's military might.
NUCLEAR SITE 'PRIMED AND READY'
Pyongyang is under multiple sets of United Nations sanctions over its atomic and ballistic missile programs, and has ambitions to build a rocket capable of delivering a warhead to the US mainland - something US President Donald Trump has vowed "won't happen".
It has carried out five nuclear tests - two of them last year - and multiple missile launches, one of which saw three rockets come down in waters provocatively close to Japan last month.
Speculation that it could conduct a sixth blast in the coming days to coincide with the anniversary has reached fever pitch, with specialist US website 38 North describing its Punggye-ri test site as "primed and ready" and White House officials saying military options were "already being assessed".
Trump has dispatched the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and an accompanying battle group to the Korean peninsula.
"We are sending an armada. Very powerful," Trump told the Fox Business Network. "He is doing the wrong thing," he added of Kim. "He's making a big mistake."
China, the North's sole major ally, and Russia have both urged restraint, with Beijing's Foreign Minister Wang Yi warning Friday that "conflict could break out at any moment".
The North has reiterated its constant refrain that it is ready for "war" with the US.
Its army vowed Friday a "merciless" response to any US provocation but diplomats in Pyongyang are more sanguine, pointing out that the North raises its rhetoric every spring, when Washington and Seoul hold annual joint exercises that it views as preparations for invasion.
None of the North's five previous nuclear tests has taken place in the month of April.
Military specialists keep a close eye on Pyongyang's military parades for clues about developments in the North's capabilities. Jeffrey Lewis, of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies said he was looking out for "the possibility of a new ICBM", adding: "There may be some surprises."
The 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty and Pyongyang says that it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against a possible US invasion.
The US cruise missile strike on Syria vindicated its stance, it said last weekend.
According to diplomats, North Korean officials have described the US president as "unpredictable" and been unnerved by his comments and actions.
Pyongyang could use the parade as a show of strength in preference to a nuclear test, analysts said.
North Korea showed off a lot of new missile-related hardware during the parade. This is going to take a while to process. But some thoughts.— Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk) April 15, 2017
North Korea's KN-15, the land-based variant of the SLBM. Its also new as of 2017. pic.twitter.com/mg4aVJYvF9— Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk) April 15, 2017
It wanted to send "a tough message to the United States in response to the Trump administration's recent rhetoric and the military steps the United States has taken", said Evans Revere of the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Another missile launch or nuclear test "can't be ruled out", he said, but the Syria strike and Washington's implied threats "may give Pyongyang some pause".
"A parade is a highly visible but non-kinetic way of showing off capabilities," he told AFP.
The North is aiming its message at China as well as the US, analysts say. Beijing has made clear its frustration with Pyongyang's stubbornness but its priority remains preventing any instability on its doorstep, and it has been unnerved by the sabre-rattling.
Pyongyang was "upset with all of its neighbours", said Bruce Bennett of the Rand Organisation and Kim needs to "demonstrate defiance".
North Korean culture is that its leaders "are supposed to reign by power", he said. "He cannot back down without looking weak and thereby facing the prospect of a coup."