PYONGYANG has kept the world on edge over an expected missile launch while turning its own energies to celebrating leaders past and present amid soaring tensions on the Korean peninsula.

The United States warned North Korea it was skating a “dangerous line”, as South Korea remained on heightened alert for any missile test that could start a whole new cycle of tensions in a region already on a hair-trigger.

G8 foreign ministers meeting in London drove home the message, condemning “in the strongest possible terms” the North’s nuclear activities and threats to the region.

CLICK HERE FOR CONTINUING LIVE COVERAGE OF THE NORTH KOREA CRISIS.

The following is our earlier rolling coverage of what happened overnight. 

6:10am (AEST): President Barack Obama says now is the time for North Korea to end its belligerence. He says the United States will take, in his words, “all necessary steps” to protect its people.

But Mr Obama also says that no one wants to see a conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea ratcheted up its threats against the US after the UN Security Council levied new economic sanctions on the isolated nation. The penalties were in response to a February rocket launch.

Mr Obama spoke alongside UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after the two met in the Oval Office.

5:15am (AEST):  North Korea is poised to launch as many as five missiles from its east coast, South Korean intelligence officials said.

North Korea's missiles

 

“There are signs the North could fire off Musudan missiles any time soon,” an unidentified intelligence source in Seoul told the state-run Yonhap news agency.

Others think the military exercise is just part of the festivities planned for a national holiday on Monday marking the birthday of the country’s late founder, Kim Il Sung.

“There is no threat,” said Xu Guangyu, a senior military analyst in Beijing. “The grandson is using the missiles to salute his grandfather and celebrate his power.’’

4:20am (AEST):  China appears “frustrated” with volatile rhetoric from its North Korean allies but is eager to see the regime stay in power as a “buffer state” on its border, US spy chief James Clapper said Thursday.

The national intelligence director told lawmakers North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong-Un, who has threatened nuclear war with the United States, was testing China’s patience.

“China is under new leadership and the indication we have is that China is rather frustrated with the behaviour and belligerent rhetoric of Kim Jong-Un,” Mr Clapper told the House Intelligence Committee.

3:30am (AEST):  The Washington Post says that Google searches for North Korea in the US are seven times higher than the last peak, which was during the country’s 2006 nuclear test.  More Americans are Googling North Korea than Beyonce or Barack Obama, two of the most consistently popular searches.

Pew estimates that 36 per cent of Americans are following the news “very closely”, which is unusual for an international news story.  About 56 per cent said the US should take the threats “very seriously.”

However, despite Americans reading more about North Korea, Pew found 47 per cent believe the country has a nuclear missile that could hit the US (which it does not).