North Korea: soldiers in hazmat suits march in military parade marking nation’s 73rd anniversary

North Korea paraded goose-stepping soldiers and military hardware in its capital overnight in a celebration of the nation’s 73rd anniversary that was overseen by leader Kim Jong-un, state media reported on Thursday.

The Korean Central News Agency also said fighter jets flew in formation above Kim Il-sung Square. The Rodong Sinmun newspaper published a photo of Kim, wearing a cream suit, waving from a balcony towards the assembled troops and spectators. The reports did not say if Kim made a speech during the event, in which personnel wearing orange hazmat suits also marched.

North Korea often celebrates major state anniversaries by displaying thousands of goose-stepping troops and its most advanced military hardware in parades at Kim Il-sung Square, named after Kim’s state-founding grandfather.

State television had not broadcast footage of the parade as of Thursday morning and it was not immediately clear what kinds of weapons systems were displayed. Previous nighttime parades have not not been aired live, but taped broadcasts were shown on state TV hours later.

KCNA’s report came hours after South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said they were closely monitoring the North after detecting signs of a military parade.

Amid a stalemate in diplomacy with the US, Kim and his powerful sister, Kim Yo-jong, have emphasised North Korea will boost its nuclear deterrent and preemptive strike capabilities while demanding that Washington abandon its “hostile” policies – a reference to the US maintaining sanctions and refusing to accept North Korea as a nuclear power.

The military parade likely is a measured attempt at pressuring the Biden administration over the diplomatic freeze, after Kim failed to leverage his arsenal for economic benefits during the Trump presidency.

But experts say Kim is facing perhaps his toughest moment as he approaches a decade in rule, with North Korea maintaining a border lockdown indefinitely to keep out the coronavirus and no end in sight to international sanctions.

Last month, Kim Yo-jong berated the US and South Korea for continuing their combined military exercises, which she said were the “most vivid expression of the US hostile policy”.

She and another senior North Korean official threatened unspecified countermeasures that would leave the allies facing a “security crisis”.

The allies say the drills are defensive in nature, but they have cancelled or downsized them in recent years to create space for diplomacy or in response to Covid-19.

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