North Korea’s capital sealed off ahead of major military parade

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The North Korean capital of Pyongyang was sealed off late Wednesday in preparation of a major military parade to commemorate the founding of its army, witnesses said. It will take place on the eve of the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Witnesses told China’s state-run Xinhua news agency that the capital had been sealed off on Wednesday night. All thoroughfares leading to Kim Il-sung Square in central Pyongyang were blocked by traffic control officers and military personnel.

North Korea is expected to stage a major military parade on Thursday to commemorate the founding of the Korean People’s Army. Experts believe the regime may also use the parade to show off its latest intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).

It will be the first time that North Korea celebrates the Day of Army Founding. The country announced last month that it had designated February 8 as the founding anniversary of the Korean People’s Army and said it would “significantly mark” the occasion.

Over the past few weeks, as many as 13,000 soldiers have been practicing on training grounds on the east side of Pyongyang, according to the North Korea monitoring project 38 North. It said 150 artillery pieces, tanks, armored personnel carriers and armored fighting vehicles were visible in satellite images taken on Tuesday.

“While normally ballistic missile or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) launchers would arrive around a week before a parade, none have been seen yet anywhere on the parade ground or at the heavy equipment storage area,” said Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., an expert in ballistic missile technology.

Experts will be closely watching the parade to see if North Korea uses the event to show off its long-range missiles, as it did in April 2017 when it celebrated the “Day of the Sun.” Thursday’s celebration will take place just a day before the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula were high throughout much of 2017, fueled by North Korea’s frequent missile tests and its advancing nuclear weapons program, as well as U.S. military exercises and threatening statements by President Donald Trump.

Recent talks between North and South Korea have allowed tensions to ease ahead of the Winter Olympics, even though North Korea has insisted that its weapons program is not up for discussion under any circumstance.

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