PYONGYANG • Thousands of North Koreans practised dance and parade routines yesterday as the capital of the isolated nation prepared for a ruling party congress where leader Kim Jong Un is expected to consolidate power.
Pyongyang, a city of nearly three million, was scrubbed clean ahead of the opening of the meeting today. Teams of elderly workers used shears to carefully cut the grass alongside main thoroughfares, and painted the base of trees a crisp, bright white.
Workers were putting finishing touches to the April 4 Culture Hall in Pyongyang, a stone structure draped in red party flags and banners named after the founding anniversary of the country's army.
A party congress has not been held for 36 years, and the event marks the political high point of Mr Kim's four-year rule.
Thousands of delegates from around North Korea will attend the congress, in what is likely to be a highly choreographed show of support for the young leader. Usually suspicious of foreigners, North Korea has invited scores of foreign journalists to cover the event.
"We are very proud to have the respected Marshal Kim Jong Un as our great leader and we are very proud to hold the Seventh Party Congress," said Ms Ji Eun Kyo, who works in a rice factory and was on her way to rehearse for a flower parade that is part of the festivities. She was speaking to Reuters in the presence of one of the official guides assigned to manage the movements of foreign journalists.
Mr Kim, believed to be 33, is expected to use the congress to formally declare North Korea a nuclear weapons state and adopt his Byongjin policy to push simultaneously for nuclear capability and economic development, further consolidating his power.
Byongjin follows Mr Kim's father's Songun, or "military first", policy and his grandfather's Juche, the North's home-grown founding ideology that combines Marxism and extreme nationalism.
Mr Kim's younger sister, Ms Kim Yo Jong, is likely to be promoted to a minister-level post within the party, reported Yonhap news agency.
North Koreans have been engaged in a 70-day campaign of intensified work in the run-up to the congress, which has included a tidying up of the capital to welcome delegates.
The congress is expected to last four or five days, with Mr Kim likely to make an address on the first day to lay out his vision for the country he inherited after the death of his father, Mr Kim Jong Il, in December 2011, said Mr Cho Bong Hyun, who heads research on North Korea's economy at IBK Bank in Seoul.
The second and third days are likely to be allocated for discussions based on Mr Kim's remarks, with the party's central committee meeting to approve organisational and personnel matters, such as new appointments to the powerful Political Bureau, Mr Cho said.
The last congress, in 1980, included invited officials from countries with ties to North Korea.