(ATTN: UPDATES with KCNA's commentary in last 3 paras)
By Choi Soo-hyang
SEOUL, Oct. 16 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un rode a white horse to visit Mount Paekdu, the highest peak on the Korean Peninsula considered the birthplace of his late father, slamming U.S. sanctions and calling for greater "self-reliance" efforts to frustrate them, state media reported Wednesday.
Kim has visited the mountain, considered one of the peninsula's most sacred places, ahead of big political or diplomatic decisions and events, and the latest trip has spawned speculation about whether another big decision might be forthcoming.
The leader "climbed up Mount Paekdu, riding a white horse through the first snow," the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported, releasing a series of photos of him riding a horse running up the snow-covered mountain.
Kim also visited a special tourist zone under construction in Samjiyon County at the foot of the mountain, and lashed out at the United States for sanctions and pressure against the communist nation.
"The situation of the country is difficult owing to the ceaseless sanctions and pressure by the hostile forces, and there are many hardships and trials facing us," Kim said, according to KCNA. "The pain the U.S.-led anti-DPRK hostile forces inflicted upon the Korean people is no longer pain, but it turned into their anger."
DPRK stands for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"Whenever the enemies try to strangle us with the chain of pressure," Kim said, the country should make greater efforts to "live well under the banner of the great spirit of self-reliance so that the enemies feel a pain in their stomach and head."
Kim congratulated and expressed gratitude to construction workers for building a "model mountainous city without parallel in the world" when the North is faced with "all sorts of ordeals and hardship at the most crucial time in history."
He ordered the workers to complete the construction in the county by next year's 75th anniversary of the ruling party's founding.
Senior North Korean officials, including Kim's sister Kim Yo-jong, accompanied the leader on his Samjiyon trip, KCNA said. It did not give details on who accompanied the leader when he scaled Mount Paekdu.
The latest visits came after the North's working-level nuclear talks with the United States broke down in Stockholm earlier this month, with Pyongyang accusing Washington of failing to come up with a new proposal.
It was the two sides' first meeting since Kim's second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump collapsed without a deal in Hanoi in February.
Kim's previous Mount Paekdu visit was in December 2017 before the inter-Korean reconciliatory mood began in 2018. He also visited the mountain in November 2014 just before the end of the three-year mourning period for his late father, as well as in February 2013 before the execution of his once-powerful uncle Jang Song-thaek.
"Having witnessed the great moments of his thinking atop Mount Paekdu, all the officials accompanying him were convinced with overflowing emotion and joy that there will be a great operation to strike the world with wonder again," KCNA said.
Seoul's unification ministry said it will closely monitor Kim's moves and other situations involving North Korea following the report.
In a separate commentary later in the day, KCNA denounced Seoul and Washington over their joint military exercises, calling them a "serious military provocation" against the North.
"We gave warnings not once or twice that moves against our republic, such as the joint military exercises, can push us to reconsider the major steps we have taken," it said, apparently referring to the North's suspension of nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests.
"We won't just sit idle and watch those sorts of acts that ridicule our commitment to resolve the problem through dialogue," the commentary said.
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