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N. Korea marks 66th anniversary of Korean War armistice

Students dance in Pyongyang on July 27, 2019, as North Korea commemorates the 66th anniversary of the suspension of open hostilities in the Korean War in 1953. (Kyodo)

PYONGYANG (Kyodo) -- North Korea on Saturday commemorated the 66th anniversary of the suspension of open hostilities in the Korean War in 1953, with Pyongyang urging the United States to ensure security guarantees to the nation.

The anniversary comes two days after the country fired what South Korea said were two short-range ballistic missiles from its east coast into the Sea of Japan. Both flew distances indicating a capability of reaching all parts of the South.

Along Pyongyang's main roads and thoroughfares, banners or placards with slogans lambasting Washington, commonplace in previous years, are nowhere to be seen, indicating North Korea is still eager to continue negotiations with the United States without intervention by the South.

From early in the morning, many citizens laid flowers and bowed before giant statues of North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung and former leader Kim Jong Il, the current leader's grandfather and father, on Mansu Hill in the heart of the capital.

North Korean university students -- the men wearing suits and the women clad in the country's high-waisted, long-skirted traditional dresses -- gathered at squares across Pyongyang to dance and celebrate the anniversary.

The North's official Korean Central News Agency reported on Friday that the test of the "new-type tactical guided weapon" on Thursday morning was aimed at sending a "solemn" warning against South Korea's plan to carry out a joint military drill with the United States next month.

North Korea has long called on the United States and the South to halt joint military exercises that Pyongyang regards as rehearsals for invasion.

On June 30, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed at their meeting at the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjeom that the two countries would resume stalled denuclearization talks within weeks.

North Korea designates July 27 as a holiday. In the nation's capital, slogans to celebrate the "victory" in war appear in public spaces.

Western countries including Japan share the view that in the war that started in 1950, the U.S.-led United Nations forces had fought alongside South Korea following the North's invasion of the South in June of that year, supported by China and the Soviet Union.

In contrast, North Korea claims that the United States waged the war in conspiracy with the South to topple the North. Ensuring the continuation of the political system led by the Kim family is a long-sought goal by Pyongyang.

Hostilities ceased with an armistice agreement signed on July 27, 1953, by the U.N. Command, North Korea's military and Chinese armed forces.

U.N. Security Council resolutions have banned North Korea from using ballistic missile technology, but Trump has downplayed Pyongyang's latest ballistic missile launches just as he had done after similar missile tests in May.

"They haven't done nuclear testing. They really haven't tested missiles other than, you know, smaller ones," Trump said in a telephone interview with Fox News, emphasizing that he is getting along with Kim "very well."

Pyongyang fired two missiles from its east coast that fell in the Sea of Japan on Thursday morning, with Seoul saying they were a new type of short-range ballistic missile that flew about 600 kilometers.

At working-level talks ahead of the second Trump-Kim summit in February, the United States and North Korea, which have no diplomatic relations, were preparing to declare an end to the Korean War.

But at their meeting in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, Kim and Trump fell short of a deal over the gap between Washington's insistence on denuclearization and Pyongyang's demand for economic sanctions relief.

At the first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit in June 2018 in Singapore, Trump promised to provide security guarantees to Pyongyang, while Kim committed to the "complete" denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

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