North Korea held a military parade in Pyongyang to mark the founding of its army – a notable national holiday – as leader Kim Jong Un vowed to step up the development of banned nuclear weapons.
The night time parade also showcased the North’s largest and newest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Hwasong-17, state media reported on Tuesday.
“We will continue to take steps to strengthen and develop our nation’s nuclear capabilities at the fastest pace,” Kim said, according to a transcript published by the official Korean Central News Agency, as he promised to continue strengthening the country’s nuclear forces “quantitatively and qualitatively”.
The North’s nuclear weapons were “a symbol of national power” and should be diversified, he added.
“In preparation for the turbulent political and military situation and all kinds of crises in the future… we will further increase our nuclear force at the highest possible speed.”
The parade began on Monday at 10pm local time (13:00 GMT), South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported, citing an “informed source”.
NK News, a US-based outlet, noted that the capital’s main Kim Il Sung Square had been busy and roads closed, while illuminated objects were seen in the air above the city at night. The parade ended with a fireworks display after about 90 minutes, it said.
Pictures released by state media showed mass battalions of soldiers marching across Kim Il Sung Square, some in combat uniforms and others mounted on horses, with Kim watching from a balcony in a white ceremonial coat with epaulettes and gold buttons.
Kim added that while the primary role of the country’s nuclear weapons was as a deterrent, they could be deployed if North Korea’s “fundamental interests” were attacked.
12th parade in 10 years
Pyongyang has carried out a flurry of weapons tests since the start of the year including its first launch of an ICBM in nearly five years.
The country usually marks key anniversaries with a display of might and was widely expected to hold a military parade on April 15 to mark 110 years since the birth of the country’s founder and Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung.
In the event, it marked that day with a mass celebration of dancing, singing and fireworks, but satellite imagery revealed what appeared to be rehearsals for a parade involving thousands of troops at a training ground near the capital.
Ahead of Monday’s parade, which marked 90 years of the army, state media urged the country’s citizens and the armed forces to pledge their “absolute loyalty” to Kim.
“We must more thoroughly establish the revolutionary discipline and order, in which the party, nation and the people move in unity under the leadership of the central party with the ideologies and intentions of our respected and beloved general secretary boiling within our hearts,” it said.
Since Kim took control of the country following his father’s death little more than 10 years ago, North Korea has held 12 major military parades for national celebrations.