North Korea holds parade for nation’s founder’s 110th birthday

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attended a massive civil parade in the capital, Pyongyang, celebrating a milestone birthday of his state founding grandfather in which Thousands of people marched in a choreographed show of loyalty to the Kim family, state media said on Saturday.

Reports did not mention any speeches or comments from Kim at Friday’s event and it appears the country spent its biggest holiday without showcasing its military hardware, amid heightened tensions over its nuclear program.

Commercial satellite images in recent weeks have indicated preparations for a major military parade in Pyongyang, which could take place on April 25, the anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s military and display the most advanced weaponry in the country. Kim’s nuclear arsenal, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Pyongyang is also expected to further ramp up its weapons testing in the coming weeks or months, possibly including a resumption of nuclear explosives testing or flying missile testing over Japan, as he’s trying to force a response from the Biden administration, which is preoccupied with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a rivalry with China.

State media footage showed Kim waving from a balcony overlooking Kim Il Sung Square, which is named after his grandfather, as huge columns of people carrying red plastic flowers and floats with political slogans paraded below.

Politburo member Ri Il Hwan of the ruling Workers’ Party appealed for loyalty during a speech, saying the North Koreans “will always emerge victorious” under Kim’s leadership. It appears that Kim did not deliver a speech at Friday’s event and state media did not mention any comments regarding the United States or rival South Korea.

The parade took place hours before thousands of young people performed a mass dance in the square as fireworks launched from a nearby riverbank lit up the night sky.

Kim Il Sung’s birthday is the most important national holiday in North Korea, where the Kim family has ruled under a strong cult of personality since the nation’s founding in 1948. This week’s celebrations marking the 110th birthday of his birth took place when his grandson returned to nuclear power. to force the United States to accept the idea of ​​North Korea as a nuclear power and to remove crippling economic sanctions.

North Korea opened 2022 with a series of weapons tests, including its first flight test of an ICBM since 2017. The South Korean military has also detected signs that North Korea is rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear testing ground that she partially dismantled weeks before Kim’s first summit with Donald Trump, then US President, in June 2018.

Kim Jong Un’s provocative displays of his military might are also likely motivated by domestic politics, experts say, as he otherwise has no significant achievements to boast to his people after a decade of rule.

Its stated goals of simultaneously developing nuclear weapons and bringing economic prosperity to its impoverished population were derailed after the collapse of its second summit with Trump in 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for a major sanctions relief in exchange for a limited surrender of its nuclear capabilities. . The COVID-19 pandemic unleashed an additional shock to its shattered economy, forcing it to acknowledge last year that the North was facing its “worst situation ever”.

Sung Kim, the top US official on North Korea, is due to visit South Korea next week for talks on the international community’s response to the North’s recent missile tests.

North Korea has recently resumed its harsh rhetoric against its rivals. One of his international affairs commentators called US President Joe Biden a ‘senile old man’, while Kim’s powerful sister Kim Yo Jong called the South Korean defense minister a ‘scum type. and threatened to destroy South Korea with nuclear strikes. .

“Kim Jong Un’s stated aim to deploy tactical nuclear weapons, Kim Yo Jong’s recent threats against Seoul, and satellite images of tunneling activity in Punggye-ri all point to an upcoming nuclear test,” said Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. “Additional missile launches are also expected to perfect weapon delivery systems.”

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