North Korea mounted its largest ever military parade Saturday to mark the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended fighting in the Korean War, displaying its long-range missiles at a ceremony presided over by leader Kim Jong-Un.
The missiles, mounted on gigantic trailers, rolled through the sprawling Kim Il-Sung square in Pyongyang, as jet fighters and helicopters screeched through the overcast skies above and soldiers chanted “Let’s fight, fight, fight. . .for our republic!”
Thousands of troops and spectators roared “Protect Kim Jong-Un with our lives” when the youthful leader appeared on the podium, flanked by top party and military leaders, in what the Nuclear-armed North described as its largest ever such display.
Kim, wearing his signature dark Mao suit, had been expected to use the anniversary to make a televised address but two hours into the parade he had yet to speak.
The parade, marking the 60th anniversary of the Korean War ceasefire on July 27, 1953 was being closely watched for any evidence that the North has made tangible progress in its ballistic missile program.
The last mass military parade in the North Korean capital was held on April 15 last year, for the birth centenary of the North’s founder leader Kim Il-Sung.
Since then, the North successfully launched a long-range rocket in December and conducted its third nuclear test in February.
Both events drew UN sanctions and triggered a dangerous surge in military tensions on the Korean peninsula that lasted for several months.
At Saturday’s parade, Kim and his troops saluted as the blue, white and red national flag and the yellow and red flag of the ruling Workers’ Party were raised.
The parade was overlooked by two large portraits of Kim’s father, Kim Jong-Il and grandfather, founding father Kim Il-Sung, hung on the gigantic Grand People’s Study Hall, which flanks the square.
Choe Ryong-Hae, the North’s highest military official, made a speech to the massed crowds praising “our great general Kim Jong-Un” and hailing the North’s “proud and victorious history”.
“A peaceful environment is more important than anything else for our country,” he said while warning that the North also had to be ready for war.
“All servicemen and people should. . .strengthen our defense and be firmly prepared to fend off any attacks from the outside.”
The parade April last year witnessed the first major public speech by Kim since coming to power following his father Kim Jong-Il’s death in December 2011.
China’s Vice President Li Yuanchao, heading the Chinese delegation invited for the anniversary celebrations, joined Kim on the podium.
China’s relationship with North Korea—famously described by Mao Zedong as being as close as “lips and teeth”—was forged in the 1950-53 Korean war which China entered to prevent the North’s total defeat.
But the relationship has weakened significantly over the years, as China’s economic transformation has distanced it from the ideological rigidity of the dynastic Kim regime across the border.
In line with UN sanctions, Beijing has moved to restrict Pyongyang’s financial operations in China which the international community says are the major conduit for funding its nuclear weapons program.
Li is the most senior Chinese official to visit Pyongyang since Kim took power.
During talks on Wednesday, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua said Li told Kim that Beijing would push for a resumption of talks on the de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
Li joined Kim on Friday evening to watch a performance of the Arirang mass games by tens of thousands of gymnasts, dancers and students at Pyongyang’s 150,000-capacity May Day stadium.
Prior to the performance, the head of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly Kim Yong-Nam gave a speech praising the North’s “great victory” in the Korean War.
“The US imperialists sustained a heavy defeat for the first time in their more than 100-year-long history of wars of aggression,” Kim said.
By contrast, the South marked the anniversary in more muted fashion.
In Seoul, President Park Geun-Hye urged the North to give up its nuclear ambitions and embrace change and peace.
“If the North makes the right choice, we will expand exchanges and cooperation and actively open up the road for prosperity of the North and the South,” she said. AFP