N.Korea's veteran newsreader returns to declare ICBM launch

Seoul (AFP) –


Pyongyang deployed one of its most symbolic media assets to declare a key moment in North Korea's missile development -- a female TV announcer in her 70s.

Ri Chun-Hee has previously told her loyal viewers of the deaths of the country's founder Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il, and several of the nuclear tests that have seen it subjected to multiple rounds of United Nations sanctions.

Nowadays her appearances are rare, but state broadcaster Korean Central Television called her back into the studio for Tuesday's news.

In front of a backdrop of Mt Paektu, the dormant volcano on the Chinese border that is the fount of Korean nationhood, she said: "North Korean scientists? successfully conducted the test-firing of a newly developed intercontinental ballistic missile" (ICBM).

In a pink and black traditional dress, known as hanbok in the South and choson chogori in the North, she almost bounced up and down with excitement.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea -- the North's official name -- was "a strong nuclear state which, in addition to its atomic weapons, has very powerful ICBMs that can strike any place in the world in its possession", she said.

It would "proudly protect peace and security on the Korean peninsula as well as in the region", she said.

Leader Kim Jong-Un personally supervised the launch, she said, and the broadcaster showed pictures of an elated Kim pumping clenched fists and applauding with subordinates.

It also displayed his hand-written order to carry out the test, dated Monday.

"The Party Centre approves an ICBM test-fire," it read. "The test is to be carried out at 9am on July 4."

It appears to have been launched exactly on schedule.

Still pictures showed a missile lifting off the ground, spewing a flame and clouds against a backdrop of green hills.

Other photos showed Kim, in a striped Mao suit, shading his eyes with a raised hand and looking up at the sky, or sitting behind a desk looking through a pair of binoculars.

Hours after the North launched a ballistic missile that flew more than 900 kilometres on Tuesday, the North's state media said it would make an "important announcement".

"Important announcements" were made twice last year, one in January when the North claimed it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb and the other in February when it said it had successfully put a satellite into orbit.

Ahead of the broadcast, the television station showed old footage of a rocket lifting off and missiles rolling through Pyongyang at a military parade in April, playing songs praising Kim's leadership before Ri appeared.