updated 4/15/2006 6:00:52 AM ET 2006-04-15T10:00:52

North Korea celebrated the birthday of late national founder Kim Il Sung on Saturday, urging its impoverished people to rally around his son and current leader and reject U.S. attempts at “ideological and cultural infiltration.”

North Korean TV footage showed a large crowd of uniformed soldiers and neatly dressed civilians visiting a low hill where a 75-foot statue of the late leader overlooks the capital, Pyongyang. Visitors laid bouquets of flowers and made deep bows, according to footage seen in South Korea.

The celebrations came as the communist state remains locked in a standoff with the United States over its nuclear programs, with six-nation talks aimed at ending the dispute stalled.

On the eve of the holiday, the North’s No. 2 leader, Kim Yong Nam, vowed to strengthen the country’s “military deterrent.” North Korea, which usually refers to its purported nuclear weapons as “deterrent force,” often uses harsh rhetoric to strengthen its position in international nuclear negotiations.

Kim Il Sung founded and ruled North Korea for more than four decades until his death in 1994 at age 82. He is still revered as a demigod in the country that upholds him as its “eternal president.”

His birthday is one of the country’s most celebrated national holidays, along with the birthday of the current leader, Kim Jong Il, who enjoys the same personality cult that flourished around his father.

'Crush the vicious U.S. plots'
In a lengthy editorial marking the holiday, the country’s main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, called on North Koreans to rally around Kim Jong Il, saying it was the “most lofty will” of the late founder.

“Our unity is mightier than nuclear weapons ... It is our oath of faith to complete the great feat of building a powerful nation by rallying with one mind around the revolutionary leadership headed by Comrade Kim Jong Il,” said the editorial, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

The paper also exhorted North Koreans to “sternly crush the vicious U.S. plots aimed at ideological and cultural infiltration,” apparently referring to Washington’s efforts to send radio broadcasts into the country, which keeps a tight control over outside information.

North Korea accuses the U.S. of seeking to topple its regime behind the smoke screen of dialogue. It cites a set of U.S. financial restrictions — imposed for the North’s alleged currency counterfeiting and other wrongdoing — as evidence of U.S. hostility.

Pyongyang has demanded that the United States lift the financial sanctions as a condition for returning to the six-party talks. Washington says the sanctions are a law enforcement matter unrelated to the nuclear talks and will stay in place.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country is part of the six-nation talks, sent a congratulatory message to Kim Jong Il.

“The friendly relations between the two countries, which developed under the deep care of President Kim Il Sung, have made progress with fresh energy in recent years,” Putin said in a message carried by KCNA.

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