North Korea marks rainy 'Victory Day', commemorating end of Korean War

Students clean the steps in front of the statues of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at Mansu hill as the country marks Victory Day in Pyongyang on July 27, 2017.
Students clean the steps in front of the statues of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at Mansu hill as the country marks Victory Day in Pyongyang on July 27, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

PYONGYANG (AFP) - In heavy rain, North Koreans put down their umbrellas to bow before the mausoleum of founder Kim Il Sung and his son on Thursday (July 27) as the country marked the end of the Korean War, which it calls Victory Day.

There had been widespread speculation in US and South Korean intelligence circles that the North might choose to mark the anniversary with a fresh missile launch, following its first successful test earlier this month of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that experts judged capable of reaching Alaska or Hawaii.

As of late Thursday, no such launch had materialised and, in Pyongyang, the day was given over to memorialising the ruling Kim dynasty as the defenders of the nation.

"Our country is ever-victorious because we have the greatest leaders in the world," said Mr Hong Yong Dok, who was at the Kumsusan Palace with his granddaughters.

The Korean people had suffered at the hands of "US imperialists for ages, and even my parents were killed by them in the Korean war. So we must teach our descendants to take revenge on the US imperialists", he told AFP.

July 27, 1953 marks the signing of the armistice among China, North Korea and US-backed United Nations forces that had fought one another to a stalemate over three years.

Nonetheless the North - whose invasion of the South started the war, despite its insistence that it was invaded by the US - regards itself as having won what it calls the Fatherland Liberation War.

The conflict left the peninsula devastated, with the South's capital Seoul changing hands four times.

Korea has been divided ever since, with the now democratic South emerging from the wreckage to enjoy an economic boom that has propelled it to become Asia's fourth-largest economy.

In the absence of a peace treaty, the two sides are technically still at war and under the Kim family dynasty, now in its third generation in leader Kim Jong Un, the North has embraced an "army first" policy.

It has developed nuclear weapons, detonating five devices so far, and celebrated the recent ICBM test as a giant leap forward in its development of a credible delivery system to threaten the US mainland.

The North occasionally times its missile firings to coincide with significant anniversaries, leading to habitual speculation of an imminent test before each one.

'MOVED TO TEARS'

Inside the Kumsusan Palace, a sprawling complex of colonnaded marble chambers and chandeliers, Kim and his son and successor Kim Jong Il lie in state.

Their embalmed bodies rest in glass coffins on biers in separate halls suffused with dim red light, soldiers standing guard in each corner as a steady stream of visitors bows before them three times.

"I was moved to tears when I met the great leaders," retired financial official Ri Sun Gyong, 71, said afterwards, her voice trembling with emotion. "I always miss them."

Ordinary North Koreans normally only express officially-approved sentiments when talking to international media.

Geopolitical tensions have mounted in recent months over the North's weapons ambitions, which have seen it subjected to multiple rounds of UN sanctions, and Washington was expected later on Thursday to formally declare a ban on US citizens visiting the country.

North Korean newspapers carried a commentary saying America's "final ruin" was "already sealed" and it had "only one way out" - "to withdraw the anachronistic hostile policy toward the DPRK and kneel and apologise before its army and people".

Despite his death in 1994, Kim Il Sung remains Eternal President of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as the North is officially known, while Kim Jong Il - who died in 2011 - is Eternal General-Secretary of the ruling Workers' Party.

Pyongyang resident Kim Un Sil, 40, took her seven-year-old son to Mansu Hill in the centre of the city, where giant statues of the two men look out over the capital, to pay their respects.

"I just wanted to tell my son, the new generation, that our Korean history is the history of victory," she said.