North Korea stages pared-down military parade featuring hazmat suits, few weapons

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North Korea celebrated the 73rd anniversary of its foundation with a nighttime military parade in the capital, after state media on Thursday published photos of marching rows of personnel in orange hazmat suits, but no ballistic missiles.

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Inclusive state leader Kim Jong Un began marching in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square at midnight Wednesday, as paramilitary and public security forces of the country’s largest civil defense force worker-peasant Red Guards, the official KCNA news agency reported. said.

The ruling Workers’ Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun published photos of people in orange hazmat suits with medical-grade masks in a clear symbol of anti-coronavirus efforts, and soldiers holding rifles as they marched together.

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Some conventional weapons were also displayed, including several rocket launchers and tractors carrying anti-tank missiles.

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But the reports did not see or mention any ballistic missiles, and Kim did not give a speech, unlike last October, when he claimed the country’s nuclear capabilities and previously unseen intercontinental missiles during a pre-dawn military parade. Ballistic missiles were demonstrated.

“The columns of emergency epidemic prevention and the ministry of public health were filled with patriotic fervor to demonstrate the benefits of the socialist system to the whole world, while firmly defending the security of the country and its people from worldwide epidemics, KCNA said.

North Korea has not confirmed any COVID-19 cases, but has closed borders and taken strict containment measures, treating the pandemic as a matter of national survival.

It was the first time since 2013 that North Korea staged a parade with the 5.7 million-strong worker-peasant Red Guards, which were called reserve forces after the exit of Chinese forces fighting for the North in the 1950–53 Korean War. was launched in

Professor Yang Moo-jin from the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul said the perceived absence of strategic weapons and the focus on public security forces suggests Kim is focused on domestic issues such as COVID-19 and the economy.

“The parade seems to be designed strictly as a domestic festival with the aim of promoting national unity and solidarity of the regime,” Yang said.

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“There were no nuclear weapons and no messaging while Kim was there, which may mean keeping the incident down and leaving room for maneuvers for future talks with the United States and South Korea.”

Talks aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile arsenals have been stalled since 2019.

US President Joe Biden’s administration has said it will explore diplomacy to achieve North Korean denuclearization, but has shown no desire to meet North Korean demands for sanctions easing.

The reactivation of inter-Korean hotlines in July raised hopes of a resumption of nuclear disarmament talks. But the North stopped responding to calls as South Korea and the United States held their annual military exercises last month, which Pyongyang warned could lead to a security crisis.

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(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith in Seoul and David Brunstrom in Washington; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Peter Cooney and Lincoln Feast.)

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