Kim Jong-un watches on as North Korean troops in hazmat suits march in bizarre parade

North Korea marks 73rd anniversary with mass parade

The Supreme Leader oversaw the event as paramilitary and public security forces of the Worker-Peasant Red Guards, the Hermit State’s largest civilian defence force, started marching in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung square at midnight on Wednesday, state media indicated. Rodong Sinmun, the ruling Worker’s Party’s newspaper, published pictures of people dressed in garish protective clothing with medical-grade masks in an apparent symbol of its efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic, while rifle-bearing troops marched together.

Some conventional weapons were also on display, including multiple rocket launchers and tractors carrying anti-tank missiles.

However, no ballistic missiles were seen or mentioned in the reports, and Kim did not deliver a speech, unlike last October when he boasted of the country’s nuclear capabilities and showcased previously unseen intercontinental ballistic missiles during a pre-dawn military parade.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said: “The columns of emergency epidemic prevention and the Ministry of Public Health were full of patriotic enthusiasm to display the advantages of the socialist system all over the world, while firmly protecting the security of the country and its people from the worldwide pandemic.”

Kim Jong-un

Kim Jong-un, looking noticeably slimmer, was at the parade, featuring personnel in hazmat suits (Image: Reuters)

North Korea

Paramilitary and public security forces parade to mark the founding anniversary of North Korea (Image: Reuters)

Though the marchers wore hazmat suits, none of the thousands of people in the square were shown to be wearing protective face masks in the photos and video distributed by state media.

State television broadcasts of the parade and other events showed a slimmed-down Kim Kim closely surrounded by crowds of people touching him and shaking hands.

North Korea has not confirmed any COVID-19 cases but closed borders and imposed strict prevention measures, seeing the pandemic as a matter of national survival.

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Hazmat North Korea

Thousands of military personnel in hazmat suits (Image: Reuters)

It was the first time since 2013 that North Korea had staged a parade with the 5.7 million strong Worker-Peasant Red Guards, launched as reserve forces after the exit of Chinese forces who fought for the North in the 1950-53 Korean War.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the perceived absence of strategic weapons and the focus on public security forces showed Kim is focused on domestic issues such as COVID-19 and the economy.

He explained: “The parade seems to be strictly designed as a domestic festival aimed at promoting national unity and solidarity of the regime.

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Pyongyang citizens welcoming soldiers who participated in a military parade (Image: Reuters)

Kim Jong-un

Kim Jong-un is North Korea’s Supreme Leader (Image: Reuters)

“There were no nuclear weapons and Kim didn’t give a message while being there, which could be meant to keep the event low-key and leave room for manoeuvre for future talks with the United States and South Korea.”

Talks aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile arsenals have stalled since 2019.

US President Joe Biden’s administration has said it will explore diplomacy to achieve North Korean denuclearisation but has shown no willingness to meet North Korean demands for an easing of sanctions.

North Korea

North Korea military factfile (Image: Express)

A reactivation of inter-Korean hotlines in July raised hopes for a restart of the denuclearisation talks.

But the North stopped answering the calls as South Korea and the United States held their annual military exercises last month, which Pyongyang has warned could trigger a security crisis.

Earlier this month a series of satellite photographs suggested Pyongyang was stepping up activity at the secretive Yongbyon nuclear facility, prompting concerns about a possible resumption of nuclear missile testing.

A report published by the 38 North website and co-authored by Frank Pabian, Jenny Town and Jack Liu, said: “Commercial satellite imagery of the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Centre provides more evidence that operations at the 5 MWe Reactor have likely restarted.

Kim Jong-un

Kim Jong-un watches the parade (Image: Reuters)

“Consistent with a recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a discharge of cooling water into a new outflow channel leading into the Kuryong River is visible in satellite imagery from August 25.”

The move has been described by the International Atomic Energy Association as “deeply troubling”.

Speaking to at the time, Jim Hoare, of London’s School of Oriental and Asian Studies, said: “While NK has not tested any nuclear weapons in recent years, they appear to have kept the facilities functioning.”

Meanwhile Dutch MEP Michiel Hoogeveen, who represents JA21 in the European Parliament, told “I think not only the restart of the nuclear power reactor is a worrying development, but the entire situation on the Korean Peninsula is deteriorating since Joe Biden took office.”