PYONGYANG: North Korea is preparing to mark the 70th anniversary of its foundation this weekend with a series of festivities, expected to include a military parade and the return of its renowned ‘Mass Games’ after a five-year absence.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as the North is officially known, was proclaimed on September 9, 1948, three years after Moscow and Washington divided the peninsula between them in the closing days of the Second World War.
Such set-piece dates are a mainstay of the North’s political calendar, particularly when round numbers are involved, and it is pulling out all the stops this time.
The military parades – overseen by leader Kim Jong Un, the third of his family to rule the country – are crucial to Korea-watchers, who observe them closely for clues about its latest military advances.
Traditionally they see nuclear-armed Pyongyang show off its latest hardware, culminating earlier this year in intercontinental ballistic missiles rolling through Kim Il Sung Square.
But analysts say the North may not put them on display this time with the peninsula in the throes of a diplomatic rapprochement, and may instead adopt milder messaging focussed on the economy and technological development.
Reports say rehearsals for a military parade have been spotted at a training ground on the outskirts of the capital and at night in the city centre.
And at the parade venue, the portraits of the North’s founder and his son and successor Kim Jong Il have been covered up, most likely to protect them during the preparations.
Practices for the Mass Games, which typically involve 100,000 performers or more in a spectacular display against an ever-changing backdrop at the May Day stadium, have been going on for months.
Hundreds of drum-carrying youths dressed in white can be seen streaming out of the stadium every evening, and at night the sound of rehearsals echoes across the city.
The show will be titled “The Glorious Country”, according to the North’s official KCNA news agency.
Diplomatic invitations for the anniversary have gone out around the world, but few heads of state are known to be attending.
Despite speculation that Chinese President Xi Jinping would go, the delegation from the North’s key ally and main diplomatic protector will be headed by Li Zhanshu, one of the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee, its most powerful body.
But Mauritanian president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz will attend, KCNA reported, and French actor Gerard Depardieu was spotted by AFP at a Pyongyang hotel Friday.
More than 120 foreign journalists have been allowed to go to Pyongyang to cover the events, its largest-scale media invitation in recent years.
But neither the reporters nor resident diplomats have yet been told of the exact schedule – nor even whether a parade will definitely go ahead. Such secrecy is standard procedure in the North. —AFP