The nuclear-armed North Korea held a huge military parade on Saturday, TV images showed. Thousands of maskless troops brave the coronavirus threat, and Pyongyang should flaunt its newest and most advanced weapons.
The eagerly awaited exhibition is part of the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party of the North.
The state broadcaster KCTV showed squadrons by squadrons of armed soldiers and armored vehicles lined up in the streets of Pyongyang ready to march across Kim Il Sung Square at night.
None of the participants or the audience in the stands wore masks, but there were far fewer citizens than usual in the square itself.
The program began with a picture of a commemorative propaganda poster showing three North Koreans holding up symbols of hammer, sickle and brush and the slogan: "The greatest glory to our great party."
People bow before the statues of the late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il on Mansu Hill as the country celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Workers' Party in Pyongyang today
According to intelligence chiefs in Seoul, North Korea is said to have held a military event this morning (Image: A military event in 2017).
A man watches TV news at a train station in Seoul this morning showing undated footage of a military parade with North Korean soldiers and weapons
North Korean military parades usually culminate with the missiles Pyongyang seeks to highlight and are closely watched by observers for clues as to its weapons development.
According to Seoul's joint chiefs of staff, the exhibition actually took place in the early hours of Saturday morning when they said in a statement that signs of a military parade were discovered in Kim Il Sung Square, involving equipment and people on a large scale & # 39 ;.
South Korean and US intelligence agencies were closely monitoring the event, they added.
The ruling party's anniversary comes in a difficult year for North Korea as the coronavirus pandemic and recent storms put pressure on the heavily sanctioned country.
Pyongyang closed its borders eight months ago to protect itself from the virus, which first appeared in neighboring China and has not yet confirmed a single case.
People visit Mansu Hill to lay flowers on the bronze statues of former North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, North Korea
People come to pay their respects in front of the statues of the late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il on Mansu Hill as the country celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Workers' Party in Pyongyang today
Last month, troops from the north shot and killed a South Korean fisheries official who appeared to have been driven into its waters as a precaution against the disease, sparking anger in Seoul and a rare apology from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
It is widely believed that the North continued to develop its arsenal – which it must protect from a US invasion – during the nuclear negotiations with Washington, which have stalled since the collapse of a summit in Hanoi earlier last year.
Analysts expected a new ballistic missile (SLBM) or ICBM that can reach the US mainland could emerge – perhaps even one with multiple re-entry vehicles that could allow US defense systems to evade.
In a file photo taken on October 10, 2015, students participate in torch lighting in Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang
In a file photo dated July 27, 2013, a North Korean soldier greets a tank during a military parade past Kim Il Sung Square on the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice in Pyongyang
In a file photo dated September 9, 2018, participants wave flowers as they march during a mass rally in Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang
The Labor Party anniversary means that North Korea "has a political and strategic need to do something bigger," said Sung-yoon Lee, professor of Korean studies at Tufts University in the United States.
The showcase of its most advanced weapons "will mark a great advance in Pyongyang's credible threat capabilities," he said.
But unlike on many previous occasions, international media were banned from watching the parade, and with many foreign embassies in Pyongyang closing their doors amid coronavirus restrictions, few outside observers stayed in the city.
North Korea was preparing for a grand parade with troops marching in close formation (sample pictured) – but experts warn this could turn into a coronavirus super-spreader event
The troops arrived in the capital by bus and were accommodated in a large hotel where Covid's precautions are likely not to be followed as the country has no cases
North Korea was expected to use the parade to showcase its latest missiles, which are locked up in vehicle depots like this one in Pyongyang
Foreigners were not welcome at the anniversary celebrations, according to the Russian embassy in Pyongyang, which posted a message from the authorities on its Facebook page urging diplomats and other international officials not to approach the venues or to take photos of them.
In late December, Kim threatened to demonstrate a "new strategic weapon," but analysts say Pyongyang will continue to act cautiously so as not to jeopardize its chances with Washington ahead of next month's presidential election.
The event will have attracted thousands of citizens to the capital (pictured above, tourist buses in Pyongyang) as experts warn that it could contribute to the spread of the virus
A key feature of the weekend's celebrations is likely to be the unveiling of a large new hospital in Pyongyang that workers are putting the finishing touches to
Kim was expected to use the event to showcase his missiles, including ICBMs – the ones capable of hitting the U.S. (pictured in 2017) – which he hasn't since the nuclear talks with Trump began in 2018 has done more
Showing off its strategic weapons in a military parade "would be in line with what Kim Jong Un promised," said analyst Lee, while "the United States is not provoked as much as a test launch of a strategic weapon."
However, Harry Kazianis of the Center for the National Interest warned that if "extreme precautions" were not taken, thousands of people could turn into a "deadly superspreader-like event".
The impoverished nation's collapsing health system would struggle to cope with a major virus outbreak, and he added that such protective measures are "quite unlikely".
"Masks and missiles clearly don't mix," he said.
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