Asia Pacific

North Korea marks late founder's birthday with no signs of any provocations

Kyodo

North Korea on Sunday marked the 106th anniversary of the birth of its late founder Kim Il Sung with no signs of provocations toward the international community amid a reduction in tensions following Pyongyang’s shift toward diplomacy.

The anniversary, known in the country as the “Day of the Sun,” is a major holiday. National flags and placards have been placed along major streets of Pyongyang in celebration of the birthday of the founder, who died in 1994.

In the run-up to North Korea’s planned summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump, political slogans in public spaces made no mention of the country’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.

The nation’s leader, Kim Jong Un, grandson of Kim Il Sung, is expected to talk about denuclearization with Moon on April 27 and Trump at a summit to be held possibly by the end of May or in early June.

As on past anniversaries, citizens and military personnel laid flowers and bowed before giant statues of the founder and his son, Kim Jong Il, the previous leader who died in 2011, on Mansu Hill in the heart of Pyongyang from early morning.

“It does not matter how the international situation changes. I am determined to offer everything to pave the way for building a powerful Korea,” Yang Yong Ae, the 50-year-old employee of the Sports Ministry, said.

Plentiful “Kimilsungia,” a purple flower of the orchid family named after Kim Il Sung, were on display in hotel lobbies and other places. The bloom was created in Indonesia.

At an annual exhibition featuring about 24,000 roots of the purple flower, there were no replicas of satellite-carrying rockets or missiles, unlike on previous anniversaries.

Missiles and rockets “do not fit this year’s theme” of the festival, Kim Ji Sung, a 24-year-old Japanese-speaking guide, said, calling the theme “Kimilsungias in full bloom with yearning for our leader.”

North Korea has also held a series of sports and cultural events over the last few days.

On April 8, around 600 foreigners participated in a marathon in Pyongyang organized for the commemoration.

On Friday, a Chinese art troupe led by a senior Chinese Communist Party official arrived in North Korea.

Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un’s sister and close aide who serves as the first vice department director of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, greeted the delegation at Pyongyang International Airport.

On Saturday the troupe gave its premiere for the April Spring Friendship Art Festival, a biennial event held to celebrate the Day of the Sun, state-run media reported.

First lady Ri Sol Ju enjoyed a ballet performance with Kim Yo Jong and other senior party and government officials, the Korean Central News Agency said.

North Korea has intensified diplomatic efforts recently.

Late last month, Kim Jong Un held a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing during his first foreign trip since becoming North Korea’s leader following the death of his father.

Kim promised Xi that Pyongyang will move forward with denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, while the two leaders agreed to promote cultural exchanges, according to China’s Xinhua News Agency.

Inter-Korean relations, meanwhile, have been improving since the North decided to take part in the Feb. 9-25 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics hosted by the South.

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