Evening Express

North Korea to mark birthday with tanks and dancing

Workers put the final touches to Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square on Saturday as North Korea prepared for what promises to be its biggest celebration in years – the 70th anniversary of its official birth as a nation.

The spectacle, months in the making, will centre on a military parade and mass games that are likely to put both advanced missiles and leader Kim Jong Un’s hopes for a stronger economy front and centre.

Although North Korea stages military parades almost every year, and held one just before the Olympics began in South Korea in February this year, Sunday’s parade comes at a particularly sensitive time.

Portraits of Kim Jong Un displayed on a large screen during the evening gala (Ng Han Guan/AP)

Kim’s effort to ease tensions with US President Donald Trump have stalled since their June summit in Singapore.

Both sides are now insisting on a different starting point.

Washington wants Kim to commit to denuclearisation first, but Pyongyang wants its security guaranteed and a peace agreement formally ending the Korean War.

With tensions once again on the rise, a parade featuring the very missiles that so unnerved Trump last year, and led to a dangerous volley of insults from both leaders, could be seen as a deliberate provocation.

North Korean military officers leave the gala (Kin Cheung/AP)

The North displayed its latest missilery in the February parade, however, and Washington hardly batted an eye.

So it is possible Kim might choose to display them but give the missiles a lower profile if he makes his usual address just before the parade begins.

Either way, soon after the Sunday celebrations end, Kim will once again meet in Pyongyang with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to discuss ways to break the impasse over his nuclear weapons.

This year’s celebrations also mark the revival of North Korea’s mass games after a five-year hiatus.

The mass games involve tens of thousands of people holding up placards or dancing in precise unison and are intended to be a display of national unity.