North Korea displays strength ahead of Winter Olympics

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North Korean soldiers in live fire drills

Less than 24 hours to the opening of Winter Olympics in the South, North Korea on Thursday staged a military parade in Pyongyang in a show of strength.

The nuclear-armed North is on an Olympics-linked charm offensive — sending a troupe of performers, hundreds of female cheerleaders, and the sister of leader Kim Jong Un to South Korea.

But footage posted online from Pyongyang Thursday showed truckload after truckload of soldiers being driven away from the city centre after taking part in the parade, with cheering onlookers lining the streets, followed by tanks and other armoured vehicles.

Unlike the North’s last parade in April 2017 its state television did not show the event live. But a Seoul government source said: “We have learned that North Korea staged a military parade at Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang.”

Analysts say that with the dual approach, the North is looking to normalise its status as a “de facto nuclear state”, and could be trying to weaken sanctions against it or drive a wedge between the South and its ally the US.

North Korea is under multiple sets of UN Security Council sanctions over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, which have seen it develop rockets capable of reaching the US mainland.

Pyongyang last month announced it would commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of its military on February 8 — changing the date from April 25 and switching it to the day before the Games’ opening ceremony in Pyeongchang.

North Korean military parades typically feature thousands of goose-stepping troops and hundreds of armoured vehicles, culminating with missiles rolling through Kim Il Sung Square — the highlight for Pyongyang-watchers who examine them for clues about the progress of its technology.

Park Geun-hye
Ex-South Korean President, Park Geun-hye

But none of them were spotted in satellite imagery of rehearsals ahead of the parade, according to respected US website 38 North.

Pyongyang normally invites hundreds of foreign journalists to show off the spectacle to the world but did not do so this time, possibly an indication that it wanted to control how the display was seen — which would be in keeping with the absence of live coverage.

Read more: AFP


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