N Korea stages a military parade on eve of Olympics


Fri, Feb 09, 2018 - Page 1

North Korea yesterday staged a military parade in Pyongyang to mark the 70th anniversary of its armed forces, a show of strength just a day before the Winter Olympics open in South Korea.

Nuclear-armed North Korea is on an Olympics-linked charm offensive — sending a troupe of performers, hundreds of female cheerleaders and the sister of leader Kim Jong-un to South Korea, but regiments of soldiers goose-stepped in formation through Kim Il-sung Square yesterday, followed by increasingly heavy weapons.

Unlike North Korea’s last parade in April last year, its state television did not broadcast the event live, instead airing it hours later.

Fireworks went off as Kim Jong-un took his place on the rostrum to watch the display, along with his wife, Ri Sol-ju, and ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-nam — who is to head Pyongyang’s delegation to the Olympics today.

“Long Live” cried the assembled troops, their breath condensing in the subzero temperatures and some of them in tears at the sight of the leader.

Tanks and armored vehicles stood waiting to drive through the streets leading toward the square, along with missile transporters — usually the highlight of the parades for Pyongyang-watchers who examine them for clues about its technological progress.

Analysts have said that with the dual approach, North Korea is looking to normalize its status as a “de facto nuclear state,” and could be trying to weaken sanctions against it or drive a wedge between South Korea and its ally, the US.

North Korea is under multiple sets of UN Security Council sanctions over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, which have seen it develop rockets capable of reaching the US mainland.

Pyongyang last month announced it was changing the date of its military commemoration from April 25 to the day before the Winter Games’ opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, just 80km south of the Demilitarized Zone that divides the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea normally invites hundreds of foreign journalists to show off the spectacle to the world, but did not do so this time, possibly an indication that it wanted to control how the display was seen — which would be in keeping with the absence of live coverage.

North Korea’s high-level delegation for the Olympics is being led by Kim Yong-nam, the highest-level official ever to visit South Korea, and it also includes Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong.

The delegation is due to have lunch with the South Korean President Moon Jae-in tomorrow, after arriving by plane today, Seoul’s presidential Blue House said.