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Thousands spotted in Pyongyang for party congress: 38 North

North Korean troops gather at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang on Oct. 10, 2020, during a military parade to mark the 75th founding anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party, in this photo captured from the Korean Central Television. (KCTV-Yonhap)
North Korean troops gather at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang on Oct. 10, 2020, during a military parade to mark the 75th founding anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party, in this photo captured from the Korean Central Television. (KCTV-Yonhap)

North Korea appears to be gearing up for its party congress next month, a US-based North Korea monitoring website said, with thousands of people mobilized in the main square in the capital, Pyongyang, to rehearse for an event.

Satellite images captured Saturday revealed thousands of people gathered at Kim Il-sung Square, “apparently practicing for an upcoming event” by standing in a formation spelling out “kyeolsaongwi” in Korean, which means to “defend with one’s life,” according to 38 North.

The report said at least one parade was expected to take place around the time of the eighth congress of the ruling Workers’ Party as the training was observed at the Mirim Parade Training Ground, a site on the eastern side of the capital that has been used as a rehearsal location for major parades in the past.

“Political messages displayed with the kind of red placards seen in today’s image are common during this kind of event and require practice to perfect timing and accuracy,” 38 North said.

In 2016, North Korea capped off its four-day party congress with a massive rally and parade attended by hundreds of thousands.

Earlier this month, the website identified a “mysterious structure” in Kim Il-sung Square that also appears to be related to the party congress.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff on Monday said South Korea and US intelligence authorities are closely monitoring North Korea’s movements on what appears to indicate a military parade. Seoul’s spy agency had said last month that the North will likely hold a military parade during the congress, in a move to boast its military might to the incoming Joe Biden administration in Washington.

North Korea is set to convene a rare party meeting in January, the first of its kind since May 2016. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in August that he would announce a new five-year economic plan at the upcoming congress, after making an unprecedented admission of failure to meet the economic goals stated in the last five-year plan. He attributed the failure to the COVID-19 pandemic, flooding and international sanctions against the country.

All eyes are on the congress to find out what Pyongyang’s new economic direction will be. Observers say the reclusive regime could use the high-profile event to deliver messages to the new leadership in Washington amid a stalemate in denuclearization talks between the two countries.

Pyongyang could also announce its policy direction toward Seoul amid an impasse in inter-Korean ties.

North Korea has kept unusually silent on Biden’s victory since November despite having acknowledged previous US election results, raising speculation as to Pyongyang’s intentions.

“North Korea appears to be preparing for the party congress, with (state media) carrying reports for days urging for the success of the 80-day campaign and stressing emergency antivirus measures,” a Unification Ministry official said Monday.

The North began an all-out “80-day campaign” in October to revive the country’s ailing economy and attain its goals before the congress.

The ministry believed Pyongyang’s national campaign was to be completed Wednesday, based on its analysis of the state media reports.

The official, however, said the exact date of the party congress in January was still unclear.

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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