Seoul — Thousands of men in their Sunday best and women in colourful traditional dress lined the streets of Pyongyang to give the scientists and workers behind North Korea’s latest missile test a hero’s welcome, state media reported on Friday.
"People’s enthusiastic welcome for defence science warriors," ran a front-page headline in the Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the official mouthpiece of the ruling Workers’ Party, alongside pictures of the developers of what appears to be its longest-range ballistic missile.
The paper praised those responsible for the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile for showing the world "the strength of the powerful self-reliant nuclear state".
Photos showed hundreds of developers wearing military garb saluting giant statues of late leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il that dominate the centre of the capital. Others showed residents waving red flags and artificial flowers as they turned out to greet a convoy of buses carrying the developers.
"The streets of the capital city of Pyongyang were full of festive atmosphere to greet the scientists of national defence," the official Korean Central News Agency said. "Hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life and school youth and children were waiting for the merited persons along the streets."
On Sunday, North Korea test-fired what analysts say is its longest-range rocket yet as it accelerates efforts to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the continental US.
Pyongyang has long had missiles that can reach targets across the South, the 500km Scud, and Japan, the 1,000km to 1,300km Rodong; but with an imputed range of 4,500km, the Hwasong-12 puts US bases on the Pacific island of Guam within reach.
Leader Kim Jong-un oversaw the launch and warned of "the worst-ever disaster" if the US provoked the secretive state, claiming it is in "range of [nuclear] strikes", according to Rodong Sinmun on Monday.
But there are questions over whether Pyongyang can miniaturise a nuclear weapon sufficiently to fit it onto a missile nose cone, or has mastered the re-entry technology needed to ensure it survives returning into Earth’s atmosphere.
The North has carried out two atomic tests and dozens of missile launches since the beginning of last year.