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North Korea marks key anniversary amid tensions over weapons tests

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North Korea has been marking a key state anniversary with calls for stronger loyalty to leader Kim Jong Un.

The 110th anniversary of the birth of Mr 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 realise the dreams of our great president (Kim Il Sung) to build a powerful socialist state,” said the North’s state-run website Uriminzokkiri.

The country’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, US-led sanctions and his own mismanagement have caused a massive economic blow in what has 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 did not 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 on 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.

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