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Flowers trump angry rhetoric as North Koreans celebrate former leader's birth

Alexander F. Yuan / AP

A man, center, supervises a dancing group during a mass folk dance in front of the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea, on April 15, 2013. Oblivious to international tensions over a possible North Korean missile launch, Pyongyang residents spilled into the streets Monday to celebrate a major national holiday, the birthday of their first leader, Kim Il Sung.

David Guttenfelder / AP

A child covers the eyes of her father as she sits on his shoulders watching mass folk dancing in front of Pyongyang Indoor Stadium on April 15, 2013.

Alexander F. Yuan / AP

Singers gesture on the stage while a photo of the late leaders Kim Il Sung, right, and his son Kim Jong Il is projected in the background during a performance held on the eve of the birthday of the former at a theater in Pyongyang on April 14, 2013.

Kyodo via AP

North Korean soldiers offer flowers for late leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at Mansu Hill in Pyongyang on April 15, 2013.

Oblivious to international tensions over a possible North Korean missile launch, Pyongyang residents spilled into the streets Monday to celebrate the birthday of their first leader, Kim Il Sung, The Associated Press reported.

Girls in red and pink jackets skipped along streets festooned with celebratory banners and flags and parents pushed strollers with babies bundled up against the spring chill as residents of the isolated, impoverished nation began observing a three-day holiday.

Many Pyongyang watchers had expected a big military parade to showcase the country's armed forces, but the "Day of the Sun" was marked instead with a festival of flowers named after Kim. In contrast to weeks of tirades against its enemies, North Korean state media made hardly a mention of conflict, Reuters reported.

KCNA - Yonhap via EPA

North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, center, visiting a mausoleum for his deceased father and grandfather at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang on April 15, 2013.

On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry called on China to do more to help resolve the North Korean missile crisis, saying the country provided the Pyongyang regime with a “lifeline.”

In Seoul, the capital of neighboring South Korea, protesters burned effigies of Kim Jong Il and his son, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, while soldiers conducted a security drill at a subway station. 

Jeon Heon-Kyun / EPA

Effigies of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L), and his father Kim Jong Il (R), which were later burnt, are seen during a rally in Seoul, South Korea, on April 15, 2013.

Ahn Young-Joon / AP

A South Korean soldier aims his machine gun as a passenger passes through a ticket barrier during an anti-terrorism drill at a subway station in Seoul on April 15, 2013.

Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters

A man takes a photo with his iPad as South Korean soldiers take their positions during an anti-terror and security drill at a subway station in Seoul on April 15, 2013.

On Sunday, soldiers lined the streets of Pyongyang as runners took part in a marathon to mark the 1912 birth of Kim Il Sung. 600 athletes from countries including Ukraine, Italy, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia took part in the race, according to state news agency KCNA.

David Guttenfelder / AP

Marathon runners pass by a long row of North Korean soldiers as they cross a bridge in Pyongyang on April 14, 2013. North Korea hosted the 26th Mangyongdae Prize Marathon to mark the upcoming birthday of Kim Il Sung.

Alexander F. Yuan / AP

North Korean military officers watch a marathon runner at Kim Il Sung Stadium in Pyongyang on April 14, 2013.

Wrapping up his six-nation tour, Secretary of State John Kerry told NBC's Andrea Mitchell he's open to direct talks between the U.S. and North Korea, if Pyongyang stops testing nuclear weapons and issuing threats.

The youngest son of Kim Jong Il succeeded his late father in 2011, becoming the third member of his family to rule the unpredictable and reclusive communist state.

David Guttenfelder / AP

As chief Asia photographer for the Associated Press, David Guttenfelder has had unprecedented access to communist North Korea. Here's a rare look at daily life in the secretive country.