Demonstrators burned effigies of North Korean leaders during the small public protest Tuesday. A North Korean statement said the country would not hold talks with South Korea unless it apologized for anti-North Korean actions "big and small." The statement also warned North Korea could take retaliatory measures at any time.
The statement, which was issued by the Supreme Command of the Korean People's Army, came amid international fears that the North is preparing to conduct a medium-range missile test and also as North Korea marked the second day of festivities in honor of the April 15 birthday of its first leader, Kim Il Sung.
Later in the day, its state media quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman saying North Korea has no intention of holding talks with the U.S. unless it also abandons its hostility against the North.
The spokesman said the North will "intensify unspecified military countermeasures" unless the U.S. stops conducting military drills on the peninsula and pulls out all the military assets needed to threaten the North with a nuclear attack.
The renewed vitriol, which included the threat for unspecified retaliatory action, followed a Monday protest by about 250 people in downtown Seoul, where effigies of Kim Il Sung and his late son and successor, Kim Jong Il, were burned. Such protests are fairly common in South Korea, and though Monday's was held on the holiday that North Korea calls "The Day of the Sun," some analysts suggested North Korea was using it as a pretext to reject calls for a dialogue with the South, at least for the time being.
The North's statement said it would refuse any offers of talks with the South until it apologized for the "monstrous criminal act."
This year's festivities were mostly low key, with Pyongyang residents gathering in performance halls and plazas and taking advantage of subsidized treats, like shaved ice and peanuts. Last year's anniversary - the centennial of Kim Il Sung's birth - was marked with days of immense festivities and a massive military parade.
After Pyongyang's latest volley of rhetoric, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said South Korea was closely monitoring its moves and would "thoroughly and resolutely punish North Korea if it launches any provocation for whatever reason."
The calm over the past two days in Pyongyang has been a striking contrast to the steady flow of retaliatory threats North Korea has issued over ongoing military exercises between South Korea and the United States. Though the maneuvers, called Foal Eagle, are held regularly, North Korea was particularly angry over their inclusion this year of nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers and F-22 fighters.
The Tuesday ultimatum comes just after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up a tour to coordinate Washington's response with Beijing, North Korea's most important ally, as well as with Seoul and Tokyo. Kerry said a missile test would be provocation that would further isolate the country and its impoverished people. He said Sunday that the U.S. was "prepared to reach out," but that Pyongyang must first bring down tensions and honor previous agreements.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.