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US B-52 bomber flies over South Korea as Pyongyang stand-off deepens

Osan Air Base, South Korea: A powerful B-52 bomber flew over South Korea on Sunday, a clear show of force from the United States as a Cold War-style stand-off deepened between its ally, Seoul, and North Korea after Pyongyang's fourth nuclear test.

North Korea will view the flyover of a bomber capable of delivering nuclear weapons – seen by an Associated Press photographer at Osan Air Base near Seoul – as a threat. Any hint of America's nuclear power enrages Pyongyang, which links its pursuit of atomic weapons to what it sees as past nuclear-backed moves by the US to topple its authoritarian government.

A US Air Force B-52 bomber flies over Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea.
A US Air Force B-52 bomber flies over Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. Photo: AP

The B-52 flight follows a victory tour by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to celebrate the country's widely disputed claim of a hydrogen bomb test.

Mr Kim is seeking to rally pride in an explosion viewed with outrage by much of the world and to boost his domestic political goals.

South Korean soldiers operate loudspeakers near the border with North Korea in a propaganda battle.
South Korean soldiers operate loudspeakers near the border with North Korea in a propaganda battle. Photo: Getty

There was no immediate reaction from Pyongyang's state media to the B-52 flyover, which also happened after North Korea's third nuclear test in 2013.

Mr Kim's first public comments about the most recent test came in a visit to the country's military headquarters, where he called the explosion "a self-defensive step" meant to protect the region "from the danger of nuclear war caused by the US-led imperialists", a dispatch on Sunday from the state-run Korean Central News Agency said.

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"It is the legitimate right of a sovereign state and a fair action that nobody can criticise," Mr Kim was reported as saying during his tour of the People's Armed Forces Ministry.

The tone of the comments, which sought to glorify Mr Kim and justify the test, was typical of state media propaganda.

However, they also provide insight into North Korea's long-running argument that it is the presence of tens of thousands of US troops in South Korea and Japan, and a "hostile" US policy that seeks to topple the government in Pyongyang, that make the pursuit of nuclear weapons absolutely necessary.

During his tour, Mr Kim posed for photos with leading military officials in front of statues of the two family members who led the country previously: Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung. He also sought to link the purported success of the nuclear test to a ruling Workers' Party convention in May, the party's first since 1980.

He's expected to use the congress to announce major state policies and shake up the country's political elite to further consolidate his power.

World powers are seeking ways to punish North Korea over a nuclear test that, even if not of a hydrogen bomb, still likely pushes Pyongyang closer to its goal of a nuclear-armed missile that can reach the US mainland.

Many outside governments and experts questioned whether the blast was in fact a powerful hydrogen test.

In the wake of the test on Wednesday, the two Koreas have settled into the kind of Cold War-era stand-off that has defined their relationship over the past seven decades.

Since Friday, South Korea has been blasting anti-Pyongyang propaganda from huge speakers along the border, and the North is reportedly using speakers in its own attempt to keep its soldiers from hearing the Seoul messages.

It might take weeks or longer to confirm or refute North Korea's claim that it successfully tested a hydrogen bomb, which would mark a major and unanticipated advance for its limited nuclear arsenal.

AP