Image: 'Great Leader' Kim Il-sung's birthday event
KCNA via Reuters
North Korean officials mark the birthday of the nation's founder, Kim Il Sung, at the Pyongyang Gymnasium in Pyongyang, in this picture released by the official news agency KCNA.
updated 4/15/2009 1:01:37 PM ET 2009-04-15T17:01:37

North Koreans bowed before statues of their late "Great Leader" and danced to honor his birthday as the regime kicked out international nuclear monitors and world leaders decried its decision to restart its atomic program.

Crowds of neatly dressed people and uniformed soldiers swarmed toward ubiquitous statues of the country's founding father with bouquets of flowers to pay homage to Kim Il Sung, who died 15 years ago, state TV showed.

North Koreans danced in unison during a massive state-choreographed performance under colorful beams of light.

"Unending adoration toward President Kim Il Sung is overflowing wherever (you) go in Pyongyang," the North's official Korean Central News Agency said.

Wednesday's celebrations came a day after North Korea declared it will restart its nuclear program, quit disarmament talks, and boot out international inspectors because the U.N. Security Council adopted a statement condemning its April 5 rocket launch.

The North says the rocket carried a satellite into space, and the U.N. censure against its "peaceful" space program is unjust. The U.S., South Korea and Japan say the launch was a test of long-range missile technology.

A diplomat from the International Atomic Energy Agency said Pyongyang expelled U.N. inspectors from its Yongbyon nuclear complex and removed all agency seals and surveillance cameras. The diplomat requested anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

'Step backward,' U.S. says
U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters Wednesday that American officials who had been helping the North disable the Yongbyon nuclear plant were now making preparations to leave.

Wood said the expulsion was "a step backward" and further isolated the country from the outside world. "The North is going to have to deal with the consequences of such decisions," he said.

On Wednesday, Japan joined Russia and the U.S. in urging North Korea to return to disarmament talks involving the four nations, South Korea and China that yielded a 2007 pact calling for Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for aid.

"Based on close cooperation with all countries involved, starting with the U.S., we want to demonstrate progress in the six-party talks," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said Wednesday in Tokyo.

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Russia's chief nuclear envoy, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin, said the "most important task" now is to restore the nuclear talks — not trying to impose heavier sanctions on Pyongyang for the rocket launch, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

There was no official North Korean response to the international criticism Wednesday.

'Day of Sun' celebrated
Kim Il Sung's birthday is called the "Day of Sun" in North Korea and is one of the biggest national holidays, along with that of his son and current leader, Kim Jong Il.

The two Kims are the focus of an intense cult of personality in the nation of 24 million people. Their portraits hang in nearly every room, and many North Koreans wear small red lapel pins bearing the elder Kim's picture.

Kim Il Sung ruled North Korea for more than four decades until his death from heart failure in 1994. Known as the "Great Leader," he remains the country's "eternal president" even while his son now leads.

Senior Workers' Party members and military officials visited the Kumsusan Memorial Palace where Kim's embalmed body lies in state, KCNA said.

For weeks, North Korea has been leading up to the anniversary with film and music festivals, athletic competitions, art exhibitions and a flower show featuring the late founder's namesake "kimilsungia" orchid.

In a highly unusual move, two Christian bands from the U.S. — the Nashville, Tennessee-based classical-fusion Annie Moses Band and Grammy Award-winning Casting Crowns — were among musicians performing Wednesday at an international festival showcasing dancers, acrobats and musicians.

"We are there to demonstrate respect for the people and continue to establish relationships," Mark Hall, lead singer for Casting Crowns, said in a statement last week, ahead of a trip to the communist nation, long criticized for not allowing religious freedom.

It is rare for an American band to play in North Korea, one of the world's most isolated nations that puts heavy restrictions on Western pop culture. But the New York Philharmonic performed in Pyongyang last year — a short-lived sign of goodwill between the two countries.

More on North Korea

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