North Korea has commemorated late leader Kim Jong-il’s 70th birthday with a military parade, pledges of loyalty to his son, Kim Jong-un, and thousands of red “kimjongilia” begonias.
Kim Jong-un, wearing a dark Mao suit and a solemn expression, bowed deeply before a large portrait of his smiling father. Hundreds of senior officials, military leaders and citizens followed to pay their respects.
Outside the palace, thousands of North Korean soldiers lined up in neat rows on a sunny but cold day, listening to speeches praising the Kim family. Later, Kim Jong-un and other officials watched as a parade of goose-stepping soldiers marched by followed by military jeeps and trucks carrying artillery guns and rocket launchers. Fireworks exploded, military music boomed and people waved artificial pink and red flowers.
Events on Wednesday included an international skating show and synchronized swimming. Both opened with mournful odes to Kim Jong-il and ended with a new song for his son: “We Will Defend General Kim Jong-un at the Risk of Our Lives.”
Kim Jong-il ruled for 17 years, a period that included a famine in the 1990s, which killed hundreds of thousands of people, and protracted tensions over the nation’s drive to build nuclear weapons. Food shortages persist in North Korea and relations with South Korea are at their lowest point in years. But since Kim Jong-il’s death, expressions of mourning and adoration have been common in Pyongyang.
Composers have crafted new odes to Kim Jong-il, while sculptors have chiseled slogans honoring him into the sides of mountains. His birthday was renamed “Day of the Shining Star,” and this week he was accorded a new title: Generalissimo.
At Kim Il-sung Square, the main plaza in the capital, North Koreans bowed and laid flowers, including red “kimjongilia” begonias, at a portrait of Kim Jong-il hanging on the Grand People’s Study House. Among them was Paek Won-chol, who described himself as a “soldier and disciple” of Kim Jong-il.
“I will devote my all for the building of a powerful and prosperous nation” under Kim Jong-un, Paek Won-chol said.
Thursday’s parade could serve as closure to North Korea’s mourning as the country prepares for important nuclear talks next week with the United States, said John Delury, an assistant professor at Yonsei University’s graduate school of international studies in South Korea.
Kim Jong-il’s death halted discussions between Pyongyang and Washington on much-needed food aid in exchange for nuclear disarmament. A US envoy will hold talks with North Korea on its nuclear programme in Beijing next week, the first such negotiations since Kim Jong-il’s death.