North Korea celebrated the 73rd anniversary of its foundation with a night-time parade in the capital, state media reported on Thursday, publishing photographs of marching rows of military personnel in orange hazmat suits, but no ballistic missiles.
Kim Jong Un, the leader of the reclusive state, watched from a balcony as paramilitary and public security forces of the Worker-Peasant Red Guards, the country’s largest civilian defence force, began marching in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung square at midnight (15:00 GMT) on Wednesday, the official KCNA news agency said.
This wasn’t your usual North Korean parade. Instead of tanks and ballistic missiles, health personnel in orange hazmat suits took centre stage at the event in Pyongyang.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) September 9, 2021
Rodong Sinmun, the ruling Worker’s Party’s newspaper, published photographs of people in orange hazmat suits with medical-grade masks in an apparent symbol of anti-coronavirus efforts, and troops holding rifles marching together.
Some conventional weapons were also on display, including multiple rocket launchers and tractors carrying anti-tank missiles.
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 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,” KCNA said.
North Korea has not confirmed any COVID-19 cases, but closed borders and imposed strict prevention measures soon after the first cases emerged in neighbouring China in early 2020, seeing the pandemic as a matter of national survival.
The parade is the first since 2013 to feature 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.
“The parade seems to be strictly designed as a domestic festival aimed at promoting national unity and solidarity of the regime,” Yang said.
“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.”