North Korea celebrates founder with dance, music but no report of military parade

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(Reuters) – North Korea celebrated the 110th anniversary of the birth of late founder Kim Il Sung on Friday with fireworks and an evening gala in Pyongyang’s main square, with thousands of people in colourful traditional dress singing and dancing.

“The Day of the Sun” is North Korea’s biggest annual public holiday. Kim, who died in 1994, founded the authoritarian regime now led by his grandson, Kim Jong Un. 

This year’s holiday marks 110 years since Kim Il Sung was born on April 15, 1912, and North Korea typically stages bigger celebrations on every fifth and tenth anniversary.

State media aired live footage of the gala in Kim Il Sung square after sundown on Friday, but gave no sign of an anticipated military parade.

Other earlier events included concerts, art exhibitions, and ideological seminars. A light festival opened in downtown Pyongyang, with dancing fountains and decorated boats on the Taedong River, state news agency KCNA said.

The festival “artistically depicted” Kim Il Sung’s native home and “the sacred mountain of revolution, Mt Paektu,” KCNA said. Residents could take photos in front of arches lit with phrases such as “Pyongyang Is Best” and “We Are the Happiest in the World.”

Some overseas dance groups from Russia, Romania, Austria, and Laos performed via video, KCNA said, but with cross-border travel still largely banned as an anti-pandemic measure, there were no reports of outside foreigners visiting.

North Korea’s economy has been battered by the border closures and international sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes, and aid organisations have warned of potential humanitarian crises.

Earlier in the week, Kim Jong Un gifted new apartments to some of his loyal elites, including the country’s most famous TV presenter, and attended the opening of a major public housing project. 

International monitors had said commercial satellite imagery showed preparations for a military parade in the run-up to the holiday, but there was no confirmation of a parade happening as of Friday evening.

The celebrations come after North Korea resumed testing in March of its largest intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), for the first time since 2017, and officials in Seoul and Washington say there are signs it could soon resume nuclear weapons tests too. Major weapons tests are sometimes timed for key holidays. 

(Reporting by Josh Smith; editing by David Evans)

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