Kim Jong Un attends bizarre parade with rows of people in orange hazmat suits
Kim Jong Un has been pictured attending a bizarre military parade - featuring rows of marching people in orange hazmat suits.
The North Korean leader made a rare public appearance on Wednesday as the country celebrated its 73rd year since foundation.
The tyrant, 37, has been seen less frequently in recent months amid fears over his weight - with citizens reportedly banned from talking about his new slimline look.
But he stood on full display as paramilitary and public security forces from the Worker-Peasant Red Guards marched in Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung square, the official KCNA news agency said.
Rodong Sinmun, the ruling Worker's Party's newspaper, published photographs of people in orange hazmat suits with medical-grade masks in an apparent symbol of anti-coronavirus efforts, and troops holding rifles marching together.
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Some conventional weapons were also on display, including multiple rocket launchers and tractors carrying anti-tank missiles.
But no ballistic missiles were seen or mentioned in the reports, and Kim did not deliver any speech, unlike last October when he boasted of the country's nuclear capabilities and showcased previously unseen intercontinental ballistic missiles during a pre-dawn military parade.
North Korea has not confirmed any COVID-19 cases, but closed borders and imposed strict prevention measures, seeing the pandemic as a matter of national survival.
It was the first time since 2013 that North Korea staged a parade with the 5.7 million strong Worker-Peasant Red Guards, launched as reserve forces after the exit of Chinese forces who fought for the North in the 1950-53 Korean War.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the perceived absence of strategic weapons and the focus on public security forces showed Kim is focused on domestic issues such as COVID-19 and the economy.
"The parade seems to be strictly designed as a domestic festival aimed at promoting national unity and solidarity of the regime," Yang said.
"There were no nuclear weapons and Kim didn't give a message while being there, which could be meant to keep the event low-key and leave room for manoeuvre for future talks with the United States and South Korea."
Talks aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile arsenals have stalled since 2019.
U.S. President Joe Biden's administration has said it will explore diplomacy to achieve North Korean denuclearisation, but has shown no willingness to meet North Korean demands for an easing of sanctions.
A reactivation of inter-Korean hotlines in July raised hopes for a restart of the denuclearisation talks.
But the North stopped answering the calls as South Korea and the United States held their annual military exercises last month, which Pyongyang has warned could trigger a security crisis.
Kim was last seen with a very loose fitting jacket and excess skin sagging around his neck at the Youth Day celebrations in Pyongyang earlier this month.
Rumours about the dictator's health have already forced officials to outlaw gossip about his weight.
Chain-smoking, cheese-gorging Kim had reportedly gained a stone every year since coming into power in 2011.
But it is understood that he has lost 44 pounds in a year - more than three stone in weight.
Some reports claimed he secretly attended a health retreat after aides became concerned about his heavy figure.
And there were other suggestions that he had a gastric band fitted and his supposed health worries left some in the country "heartbroken".
According to South Korea's national intelligence, he tipped the scales at 22 stone last year, which would give him a classification of morbidly obese.
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