KRT via AP Video) TV OUT, NORTH KOREA OUT, Associated Press
PYONGYANG, North Korea — Goose-stepping soldiers, columns of tanks and a broad array of ominous-looking missiles poised on mobile launchers paraded through Pyongyang's main square on Saturday in a painstakingly choreographed military pageant intended to strike fear into North Korea's adversaries and rally its people behind young ruler Kim Jong Un on the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War.
The lavish assembly of weapons and troops is reminiscent of the marches held by the Soviet Union and China at the height of the Cold War. It is one of the few chances the world gets to see North Korea's military up close. Pyongyang frequently uses the occasion to reveal new, though not always operational, hardware. Its arsenal of missiles was front-and-center.
Overlooking a sea of spectators mobilized in Kim Il Sung Square to cheer and wave flags, leader Kim Jong Un saluted his troops and waved from a review stand, flanked by senior military officials, the chests of their olive green and white uniforms laden with medals. As fighter jets screamed overhead, a relaxed looking Kim smiled and talked with China's vice president. China fought with North Korea during the war and is Pyongyang's only major ally and a crucial source of economic aid.
Kim's rule, which began in late 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, has been marked by unusually high tensions with Washington and Seoul. He has overseen two long-range rocket launches and a nuclear test that drew widespread condemnation and tightened U.N. sanctions.
North and South Korea have turned to tentative diplomacy in recent weeks, but March and April saw North Korean threats of nuclear war against Washington and Seoul in response to annual South Korean-U.S. military drills and U.N. condemnation of Pyongyang's February nuclear test, the country's third.
Saturday's parade was held to mark a holiday the North Koreans call "Victory Day in the Fatherland Liberation War," although the 1950-53 Korean War that refers to ended in a truce and the Korean Peninsula remains technically at war. To commemorate the anniversary, North Korea over the past week has also staged huge mass rallies in its capital and put on elaborate fireworks shows.
Last year's parade, held to commemorate the April celebrations of the 100th birthday of the late national founder Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un's grandfather, created a loud buzz among military watchers when the North rolled out a mysterious long-range missile known abroad as the KN-08. Most outside observers now believe the missiles were mock-ups, but they were carried on mobile launchers that appeared to have been obtained from China, possibly against U.N. arms trade sanctions.
In South Korea, the anniversary was marked with a speech by President Park Geun-hye, an exhibit on the war's history and a planned anti-North Korea rally. A South Korean symphony was to perform later in the day.
Park vowed in prepared remarks not to tolerate provocations from North Korea, but she also said Seoul would work on building trust with the North.
"I urge North Korea to give up the development of nuclear weapons if the country is to start on a path toward true change and progress," Park said.
North Korea is estimated to have a handful of crude nuclear bombs, but many analysts don't think it has yet mastered the technology needed to build warheads small enough to fit on long-range missiles.
The North's parade tradition goes back to the founding of the country in 1948. Few countries — including North Korea's communist models — continue to trot out their military forces in public squares with such pomp and pageantry. But Pyongyang has stuck with them because its leaders believe they are a good way to show the world those things about the military they want to reveal, while at the same time sending a potent message domestically of the power of the ruling elite.
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