N. Korea celebrates late leader’s birthday, pushes for unity

SEOUL, South Korea ( Associated Press) — North Korea celebrated the 80th birthday of late leader Kim Jong Il with a concert, fireworks and a rare outdoor ceremony near its border with China, state media reported Wednesday, as the country pushes for greater internal unity amid pandemic-related hardships.

Kim’s son and current leader Kim Jong Un attended a state ceremony at Samjiyon city on Tuesday, on the eve of his father’s birthday, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.

When Kim Jong Un appeared, all the participants “burst into stormy cheers ‘hurrah’ upon him” before he paid tribute to the statue of his father, KCNA said.

The event showed participants’ firm resolves to rally behind Kim Jong Un and achieve a prosperity with self-reliance, KCNA said, and similar ceremonies were held across North Korea to mark the birth anniversary.

KCNA said senior officials visiting Samjiyon city observed fireworks and a music concert. It’s rare for North Korea to hold a high-profile state event in the city at the foot of Mount Paektu, the highest peak on the Korean Peninsula which is the heart of North Korea’s foundation myth revolving around the Kim family. A major development project has also been underway in Samjiyon, which Kim Jong Un has said epitomizes his country’s “iron will” to achieve prosperity.

The birthday of Kim Jong Il is one of the most important holidays in North Korea, along with that of Kim Il Sung, the late grandfather of Kim Jong Un who established North Korea in 1948. Kim Jong Un has ruled North Korea since Kim Jong Il died of a heart attack in late 2011.

Last month, North Korea conducted a spat of missile tests in what some experts say were an attempt to pressure the United States to offer concessions like sanctions relief. North Korea admitted it’s faced severe economic difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

North Korea paused testing activity before the start of the Winter Olympics in China, its last major ally and economic pipeline, earlier this month.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry said North Korea’s military hasn’t shown any suspicious activities Wednesday.

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