SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea is marking a key state anniversary Friday with calls for stronger loyalty to leader Kim Jong Un, but there was no word on an expected military parade to display new weapons amid heightened animosities with the United States.
The 110th birth anniversary of Kim’s late grandfather and state founder, Kim Il Sung, comes after North Korea conducted a spate of weapons tests in recent months, including its first full-range intercontinental ballistic missile launch since 2017. Experts say North Korea aims to expand its weapons arsenal and ramp up pressure on the United States amid long-stalled nuclear diplomacy.
“Let’s work harder in devotion to our respected comrade Kim Jong Un and on that path ultimately realize the dreams of our great president (Kim Il Sung) to build a powerful socialist state,” the North’s state-run website Uriminzokkiri said in a commentary.
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The North’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said North Korea is revering Kim Il Sung as “eternal president” under the “outstanding leadership of comrade Kim Jong Un.”
Kim Il Sung’s birthday is the most important national holiday in North Korea, where the Kim family has ruled under a strong personality cult since the nation’s founding in 1948. Kim Jong Un is the third generation of his family to rule North Korea after his father Kim Jong Il died in late 2011.
On Friday, Pyongyang residents gathered near the bronze statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il to bow and lay bouquets of flowers before them. Big celebratory posters calling Kim Il Sung “the parent of the nation” and his birthday “the Day of Sun” were set up along neatly manicured Pyongyang streets.
Kim Jong Un has pushed to advance his nuclear arsenal while simultaneously reviving the economy. But a mix of pandemic-caused hardships, U.S.-led sanctions and his own mismanagement have caused a massive economic blow in what’s become the toughest moment of his decade in power.
North Korea often marks key state anniversaries with huge military parades featuring newly built missiles, especially during anniversaries that end in zero and five. State media said Kim Il Sung’s birthday will be celebrated with fireworks, a dance party and a performance, but didn’t mention a military parade.
Commercial satellites earlier indicated an apparent rehearsal for a military parade, such as people assembled in formation at Pyongyang’s main plaza, the site for past parades. Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Friday it has detected signs that North Korea was preparing for a military parade that could come on Kim Il Sung’s birthday or the army founding anniversary on April 25.
After North Korea’s ICBM test last month, South Korean and U.S. officials said North Korea could soon launch fresh provocations like an additional ICBM test, a banned launch of a rocket to put a spy satellite into orbit, or even a nuclear bomb test that would be the seventh of its kind.
South Korea’s military said recently it detected signs that North Korea is rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear testing ground that it partially dismantled before it entered now-dormant nuclear talks with the United States in 2018. Some experts say North Korea is likely to perform a nuclear test after the U.S. and South Korea militaries begin their annual drills, which the North views as an invasion rehearsal, next week.
“I think they’ll carry out a nuclear test once it finishes restoring its nuclear testing facility,” said Moon Seong Mook, an analyst with the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy. “There is no reason for them to bring back its testing ground if they don’t plan to use them for a bomb test.”
Sung Kim, the top U.S. official on North Korea, is to visit South Korea next week for talks on the international community’s response to the North’s recent missile tests.