SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea celebrated the 80th birthday of late leader Kim Jong Il with a concert, fireworks and a rare outdoor ceremony near its border with China, state media reported Wednesday, as the country pushes for greater internal unity amid pandemic-related hardships.
Kim’s son and current leader Kim Jong Un attended a state ceremony at Samjiyon city on Tuesday, on the eve of his father’s birthday, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.
When Kim Jong Un appeared, all the participants “burst into stormy cheers ‘hurrah’ upon him” before he paid tribute to the statue of his father, KCNA said.
The event showed participants’ firm resolves to rally behind Kim Jong Un and achieve a prosperity with self-reliance, KCNA said, and similar ceremonies were held across North Korea to mark the birth anniversary.
KCNA said senior officials visiting Samjiyon city observed fireworks and a music concert.
It’s rare for North Korea to hold a high-profile state event in the city at the foot of Mount Paektu, the highest peak on the Korean Peninsula which is the heart of North Korea’s foundation myth revolving around the Kim family.
A major development project has also been underway in Samjiyon, which Kim Jong Un has said epitomizes his country’s “iron will” to achieve prosperity.
The young leader has sought to transform the city into a massive economic hub, by building new apartments, hotels, a ski resort and commercial, cultural and medical facilities.
The project has been a key initiative to foster a “self-reliant” economy amid sanctions over nuclear and missile programs, and Kim has made multiple visits touting it as a “socialist utopia” and “epitome of modern civilization.”
The birthday of Kim Jong Il is one of the most important holidays in North Korea, along with that of Kim Il Sung, the late grandfather of Kim Jong Un who established North Korea in 1948. Kim Jong Un has ruled North Korea since Kim Jong Il died of a heart attack in late 2011.
On Wednesday, North Korean citizens climbed Pyongyang’s Mansu Hill to lay bouquets of flowers and to bow before the giant statues of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung. Elsewhere in Pyongyang, signs with celebratory messages like “the great event of the nation” were set up along streets.
Last month, North Korea conducted a spate of missile tests in what some experts say were an attempt to pressure the United States to offer concessions like sanctions relief. North Korea admitted it’s faced severe economic difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
North Korea paused testing activity before the start of the Winter Olympics in China, its last major ally and economic pipeline, earlier this month.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry said North Korea’s military hasn’t showed any suspicious activities Wednesday.