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(2nd LD) N.K. celebrates founder's birthday with attempt to launch missile

All Headlines 15:40 April 15, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS more info in last 2 paras)

SEOUL, April 15 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un paid tribute to the North's founder on Friday, the birthday of his grandfather, as Pyongyang made a botched attempt to launch a ballistic missile.

The young leader Kim visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, accompanied by senior military officials, to commemorate the 104th birthday of Kim Il-sung, known as the Day of the Sun, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Since 1997, the North has celebrated the April 15 anniversary with lavish festivals to show its respect to the leader who died in 1994.

On the anniversary, North Korea attempted to fire off what appeared to be a Musudan medium-range ballistic missile, but the launch ended in failure, according to the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff.

If confirmed, it was the North's first test-launch of the Musudan missile, which is believed to be capable of flying as far as Guam with a range of 3,000-4,000 kilometers.

The launch came amid high speculation that North Korea may carry out its fifth nuclear test or fire off a long-range missile ahead of the Day of the Sun or the upcoming party congress slated for May.

The U.N. Security Council slapped its toughest sanctions yet on the North in March over its nuclear test and long-range rocket launch earlier this year. The North is banned from launching ballistic missiles under a series of relevant U.N. resolutions.

"The North seems to be trying to show that it will strongly defy international sanctions," Jeong Joon-hee, a ministry spokesman, told a regular press briefing. "(The missile test) also appears to have been conducted as part of the North's attempt to show its exploits ahead of the party event."

The Seoul government said that it is closely monitoring the possibility of further provocations by the North and is ready to sternly respond to them.

North Korea is ramping up efforts to prepare for the ruling party's first congress in over three decades in early May.

The party congress will likely serve as a key event that will reveal the North Korean leader's policy direction in his fifth year in power. The current leader inherited power following the sudden death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in late 2011.

North Korea pledged allegiance to the young leader on the occasion of the anniversary while praising the late founder, according to the North's newspaper.

The Rodong Simun, the ruling party's newspaper, called for uniting around the North's current leader and making efforts to advance toward the national prosperity based on "juche," or the North's guiding ideology, which emphasizes self-reliance and independence.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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