North Korea marked the 101st anniversary on Monday of the birth of their country's first leader, offering floral tributes instead of displays of military might.


North Korean soldiers offer flowers for late leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il at Mansu Hill in Pyongyang. (Kyodo News/Associated Press )

Kim Il-sung is officially revered in North Korea as the country's founder, and his birthday was remembered as tensions continued over the national nuclear program.

In spite of tensions on the Korean peninsula, there appeared to be calm in Pyongyang with people marking the day in a traditional manner.

Crowds of people climbed Mansu Hill in the centre of the capital to lay flowers and bow at the feet of giant statues of Kim Il-sung, and his late son and the North Korea's second president, Kim Jong-il.

It is customary for North Koreans to lay flowers at images and statues of the Kims on major anniversaries and holidays.

Special drink stands offering barley tea and soft drinks were set up at the foot of Mansu Hill and elsewhere around the city.

One drinks stand worker acknowledged the tense situation in the region but said "people have got bright faces and are very happy."

The anniversary was the start of a two-day holiday for Pyongyang residents who spilled into the streets.

Girls in red and pink jackets skipped along streets festooned with celebratory banners and flags and boys on inline skates took a break to slurp up bowls of shaved ice.

Crowds also watched outdoor music shows and participated in group dancing, another common activity in the country during major anniversaries.

Leader Kim Jong-un visited the mausoleum of his grandfather and his father Kim jong-il in Pyongyang, the official KCNA news agency reported.

There was no indication of any large-scale event planned for Monday's celebration, and no sign that North Korea was going ahead with a new test of a medium-range missile.

South Korea remains on high alert under the assumption that the North could carry out a missile launch anytime.

Concern about the possibility of such a test spread last week when South Korean authorities said they had seen North Korea moving mobile missile launchers on its east cost.

On Sunday, the North rejected South Korea's proposal to resolve tensions through dialogue.

Pyongyang said it has no intention of talking with Seoul unless it abandons what it called the rival South's confrontational posture.

NATO condemns war rhetoric

The head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation condemned North Korea's recent provocations on Monday during his visit to Japan.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen is in Japan on a four-day trip at a time when tension in the region remains high due to continuous aggressive rhetoric from North Korea.

"NATO strongly condemns North Korea's provocative rhetoric and provocative actions. They pose a serious threat to regional and international peace, security and stability," Rasmussen told a news conference, after meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The two men signed a joint political declaration to further strengthen political dialogue and enhance co-operation in security challenges, including cyber-defence, disaster relief and counter terrorism.

Elsewhere in the region, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ended a visit to Tokyo, wrapping up a tour of Asia to co-ordinate Washington's response with Beijing, North Korea's most important ally, as well as with South Korea.

U.S. 'prepared to reach out'

Kerry warned North Korea not to conduct a missile test, saying it would be provocation that "will raise people's temperatures" and further isolate the country and its impoverished people. He said Sunday that the U.S. was "prepared to reach out," but that Pyongyang must first bring down tensions and honor previous agreements.

Foreign governments have been trying to assess how seriously to take North Korea's recent torrent of rhetoric warning of war if the U.S. and South Korea do not stop holding joint military manoeuvres just across the border.

Officials in South Korea, the U.S. and Japan say intelligence indicates that North Korea, fresh off an underground nuclear test in February, appears ready to launch a medium-range missile. North Korea has already been slapped with strengthened UN sanctions for violating Security Council resolutions barring the regime from nuclear and missile activity.

North Korea has warned that the situation has grown so tense it cannot guarantee the safety of foreigners in the country and said embassies in Pyongyang should think about their evacuation plans.

But British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Monday that although there is reason for concern over the "frenetic and bellicose" rhetoric, Britain believes there has been "no immediate increased risk or danger" to those living in or travelling to North Korea.

He said Britain does not see an immediate need to draw down embassy staff, but is keeping that under constant review. He added that, from discussions with other governments, the U.K. does not believe any foreign embassy in Pyongyang plans to close.