North and South Korea marked Sunday the 61st anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, a day after Pyongyang fired a short-range missile into waters off its east coast.
North Korea revealed through its official news agency that leader Kim Jong Un on Saturday guided a rocket-firing drill targeting U.S. forces in South Korea without specifying the location of the exercise, but he was presumably at the scene of the missile launch on the country's western coastal region.
The Korean Central News Agency said Kim voiced his "great satisfaction" over a series of recent successful rocket firings and quoted him as saying, "The roar heard from today's firepower drill conducted to mark the war victory day is just like a thrilling gun report heralding the completion of the strategic force's combat preparations."
North Korea is believed to have launched a Scud-type missile in a northeastern direction from Jangsan Cape on its western coastal region around 9:40 p.m. Saturday, without advance warning or a no-fly or no-sail zone imposed, according to South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The missile, which did not cause any damage, is presumed to have fallen into the Sea of Japan after crossing the Korean Peninsula and flying about 500 kilometers.
The Japanese government protested late Saturday over North Korea's 15th missile launch this year as another use of ballistic technology in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said during a trip to Mexico that Tokyo lodged a protest via diplomatic channels in Beijing. Japan and North Korea do not have diplomatic ties.
"We need to let them know that nuclear and missile development and economic revival won't go together," Abe told reporters, calling the launch a violation of the U.N. resolutions.
Abe said Japan would gather and analyze information in coordination with the United States and South Korea, ensure the safety of flights and maritime navigation, and swiftly give information to the public.
On Sunday, at a ceremony on the 61st anniversary of the truce in the South Korean part of Panmunjeom, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, who heads U.S. Forces Korea and the United Nations Command, pledged the forces will do everything they can to secure the South.
Scaparrotti also criticized North Korea for again violating U.N. resolutions and "endangering the safety of innocent people."
In North Korea, the anniversary of the suspension of open hostilities is every year celebrated as "victory" day in what it calls "the Fatherland Liberation War" against the U.S.-led U.N. and South Korean forces.
On the streets of the North Korean capital there were many signboards commemorating the "great war victory" and a large chorus of students and children was presented in its central plaza, Kim Il Sung Square, for the anniversary.
Many citizens in Pyongyang also visited Mansu Hill and laid flowers before giant bronze statues of the country's state founder Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, the current leader's predecessor and father who died in December 2011.
But this year's anniversary was low key, unlike last year when there was a major military parade attended by Kim standing side by side with Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao and senior officials of the North's estimated 1 million-strong military.
There were no indications of praising China for fighting on the side of North Korea in the war, reflecting a cooling of relations with its traditional ally.
The armistice signed July 27, 1953 ended open fighting, but a formal peace treaty has never been signed, leaving the Korean Peninsula in a technical state of war, divided at the 38th Parallel, now one of the world's most heavily militarized borders.