(ATTN: ADDS more details in paras 3-5, 11)
By Koh Byung-joon and Oh Seok-min
SEOUL, Sept. 9 (Yonhap) -- North Korea held a midnight military parade to mark the 73rd anniversary of its founding, but leader Kim Jong-un did not deliver an address and no new strategic weapons were displayed, according to state media and South Korean officials.
The parade, which began at midnight Thursday, was watched closely by South Korea and others because the North could show off state-of-the-art weapons systems or leader Kim could make a speech about inter-Korean relations or nuclear talks with the United States.
But the parade at Pyongyang's Kim Il-sung Square featured artillery-carrying tractors and military search dogs rather than intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and other strategic weapons. Also seen were fire engines looking like the same model produced by German carmaker Mercedes Benz.
Leader Kim reviewed the parade, but no speech was given.
The official Korean Central News Agency said the parade was mostly led by the Worker-Peasant Red Guards (WPRG), a civilian defense organization in North Korea composed of around 5.7 million workers and farmers, rather than regular troops.
"North Korea does not appear to have presented strategic weapons this time. I think the parade was mainly for domestic audiences, rather than to convey messages to the U.S. or South Korea," a military official in Seoul said.
The parade was also conducted on a smaller scale than the previous ones held in January this year and in October last year, as it seemed to have lasted for about an hour and involved a small number of personnel and equipment, he added.
It marked the North's first military parade since U.S. President Joe Biden took office. The January event was held days before Biden's inauguration.
"The military parade of civilian and security armed forces was held at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang to mark the 73rd anniversary of the republic's founding," the KCNA said. "As the welcoming music was performed at midnight on Thursday, Comrade Kim Jong-un walked up to a podium."
Photos and reports by the KCNA and the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed Kim dressed in a Western-style suit waving at rifle-toting, goose-stepping soldiers marching through the square.
Later in the day, state TV aired recorded footage of the parade.
Instead of leader Kim, Ri Il-hwan, a party secretary, addressed the parade.
"The government of the republic will firmly defend the dignity and the fundamental interests of our people and solve everything our own way with our own efforts on the principle of self-reliance and self-development under any circumstances," Ri was quoted as saying by the KCNA.
"We will increase the People's Army, a pillar in defending the state, in every way, put the defense industry on a higher juche and modernized basis and keep spurring the struggle for carrying out the Party's policy on putting all the people under arms and turning the whole country into a fortress to ceaselessly improve the defense capability of the country," he added.
The North last staged a military parade in January after a rare party congress and showcased a new submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and other advanced ballistic missiles. In October last year, it also held a massive nighttime military parade, displaying new types of SLBM and an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
Thursday's parade came as the North has been struggling with a worsening economy amid the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic and international sanctions. North Korea claims to be coronavirus-free but has maintained border closures with China since early last year.
Denuclearization talks between the U.S. and North Korea have also stalled. Washington has said it is ready to hold talks with the North anywhere, at anytime, but the communist country has remained unresponsive to U.S. overtures.
Last month, the North warned of "a serious security crisis" in protest against the major combined exercise between South Korea and the U.S. Some have expected the North to carry out major weapons tests or to undertake provocations, but the JCS has said the North had not shown any unusual military moves.
North Korea last held a military parade on the occasion of the national foundation day in 2018 to celebrate the 70th anniversary. At that time, the communist country did not display ICBMs that could target the U.S., as the event took less than three months after the first summit between Kim and then-U.S. President Donald Trump.
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