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North Korea stages military parade overnight, but shows no new weapons

North Korea held a military parade early Thursday to mark the 73rd anniversary of its founding, state-run media reported. Photo by KCNA/EPA-EFE
North Korea held a military parade early Thursday to mark the 73rd anniversary of its founding, state-run media reported. Photo by KCNA/EPA-EFE

SEOUL, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- North Korea held an overnight military parade to mark the 73rd anniversary of its founding, state media reported Thursday, although it did not appear that any new weapons were displayed.

Leader Kim Jong Un attended the parade noticeably slimmer than in recent years and wearing a tan Western-style suit, according to still photos released by the Korean Central News Agency and newspaper Rodong Sinmun.

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Kim was shown waving to the assembled crowd in Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Square, but there were no reports that he made an address.

Fireworks, flyovers and goose-stepping soldiers highlighted the event, although troops came primarily from civilian security and defense forces rather than the military. Anti-pandemic workers were featured as well, seen in bright orange hazmat suits, while equipment on display included firetrucks and tractors.

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Seoul and Washington had been closely monitoring developments to see if North Korea would show off any new military hardware during the parade, which was the first since U.S. President Joe Biden took office in January.

However, Thursday's parade appeared to have been aimed at sending a message of strength to the domestic audience in the midst of an economic crisis, Go Myong-hyun, a senior fellow at the Seoul-based Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said.

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"Without weapons, the parade was meant to show internal cohesion and unity," Go said. Pyongyang does "these kinds of theatrics as a way to remind the public that North Korea is one party, one state, one leader."

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North Korea has seen its shaky economy battered over the past two years by prolonged border closures meant to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and severe weather that has caused extensive crop damage.

Party secretary Ri Il Hwan delivered a speech at Thursday's parade that acknowledged the challenges, saying North Korea "will overcome the present difficulties with the power of single-minded unity," according to KCNA. He added that North Korea would continue to strengthen its defensive capabilities and "turn the whole country into a fortress."

In the meantime, observers continue to wait for the secretive state's next major provocation. Despite strong words condemning U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises held last month, Pyongyang has remained relatively subdued on the international stage. The country's last known weapons test was in March, when it fired off a pair of short-range ballistic missiles, in violation of United Nations sanctions.

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"North Korea may be waiting to maximize the impact of their next provocation, looking for the right time to send a message to the Biden administration," Go said.

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Pyongyang will likely have another opportunity to show off weapons next month, as a parade is typically held to mark the Oct. 10 anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea.

Thursday's low-key event was a departure from a pair of late-night parades held over the past year. Last October, Pyongyang unveiled a massive new intercontinental ballistic missile that analysts believe is capable of carrying several warheads and reaching the entire continental United States.

And in January, days ahead of Biden's inauguration, North Korea held a parade that included a submarine-launched ballistic missile.

South Korea's Blue House said Thursday that Seoul and Washington are assessing developments from Thursday's parade.

"Our military is closing following the circumstances of North Korea's military parade, and specific details are being analyzed in close cooperation between South Korea and the U.S. intelligence agencies," a senior official told reporters.

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