PYONGYANG, North Korea - As the world braced for a provocative missile launch by North Korea, with newscasts worldwide playing up tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the center of the storm was strangely calm.
The focus in Pyongyang on Wednesday was less on preparing for war and more on beautifying the capital ahead of the nation's biggest holiday: the April 15 birthday of the nation's founder, Kim Il Sung. Soldiers put down their rifles to blanket the barren ground with sod and students picked up shovels to help plant trees.
But the impoverished, tightly controlled nation that has historically used major holidays to draw the world's attention by showing off its military power could well mark the occasion by testing a missile designed to strike U.S. military installations in Japan and Guam.
A North Korean soldier, center top, looks at the southern side as South Korean soldiers stand guard at the border village of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday. The prospect of a North Korean missile launch is 'considerably high,' South Korea's foreign minister told lawmakers Wednesday as Pyongyang prepared to mark the April 15 birthday of its founder, historically a time when it seeks to draw the world's attention with dramatic displays of military power.
South Korea's foreign minister said the prospect of a medium-range missile launch is "considerably high."
North Korean officials have not announced plans to launch a missile in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions barring Pyongyang from nuclear and missile activity.
But they have told foreign diplomats in Pyongyang that they will not be able to guarantee their safety starting Wednesday and urged tourists in South Korea to take cover, warning that a nuclear war is imminent. Most diplomats and foreign residents in both capitals appeared to be staying put.