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View more articles by Colin Zwirko
Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Training for mass parades and events to mark North Korea’s 70th National Day anniversary appear to be significantly intensifying in Pyongyang, sources in the city say and late August-dated photos indicate.
Middle school to college-age children were frequently seen practicing for an anticipated torch march in Kim Il Sung Square and nearby open areas as usual in late August, but also in other parts of the city, including adjacent to the Pyongyang Ice Rink.
Informed sources told NK News they also recently saw “thousands of people” sleeping on the ground in Kim Il Sung Square after all-day training that would be resuming early the following morning.
Practices were sometimes still ongoing after 1 a.m. in locations all over the city, one of the sources said, adding that they had seen groups of young children sleeping late at night in the backs of trucks.
One source explained that they had never seen such an intense level of preparations in their whole time being based in the DPRK.
Day-time photo and video obtained by NK News meanwhile showed thousands of students in mandatory white shirts and hats, each carrying mock torches while marching in formation to orders from coaches over megaphones.
Many of the students can also be seen using phones or other electronic devices while resting between practices.
Video of past torch marches suggest each individual will be expected to carry two flaming torches for a roughly hour-long series of movements – some marching down the main street forming political slogans, others creating animated slogans and icons in complicated routines in the large square.
Hand-painted propaganda message boards at the square promote the accomplishments of individual classes and students present, each board belonging to a different group or school.
Acknowledging the potentially painful work of holding their arms up and marching for hours on end, one panel praises a particular student’s approach to the training.
“Even when her body hurts, comrade Heo, first-year class 1 English major, tightly and strongly clenches the torch of Juche while participating in the exercises!”
A board from the Kim Chong Ju University of Education also praises its students’ use of free time in a panel with the title, “(Time) Waste.”
“Never forgetting their duty… students utilize their free time during exercises and never stop studying!”
“They are never giving up their top place in either the exercises or their studies!”
The training exercises, which have been taking place since at least mid-June, have been observed almost every day in recent weeks.
Another panel acknowledges as much, praising a student for “going up to the bronze statues (of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il) at Mansudae Hill every evening after practice.”
Another message promotes the time one student “demonstrated the great and beautiful work of finding and returning the lost items and cash,” earlier lost by the group.
Other messages around the square encourage students not to waste “a single drop of sweat,” to contribute their own materials and supplies, and even to endure the hot weather.
They also track the students’ progress on “Socialism Competition Graphs” and provide a countdown in number of days until the 70th-anniversary event on September 9.
In other preparations around town, young students in similar white outfits were seen carrying long flag poles which have in the past been used during daytime military or other parades at the square.
Practice for an expected military parade is also ongoing at the Mirim airfield in southeast Pyongyang, NK Pro reported last week, which is likely to take place during the day before the torch march at night – each requiring the participation of tens of thousands of people.
Meanwhile, preparations continue at the May Day Stadium in the North Korean capital for the restarting of the “Glorious Country grand mass gymnastics and artistic performance,” formerly known as the Arirang mass games.
Recent images obtained by NK News reveal groups of people and equipment in the parking lot outside the Rungrado May Day Stadium in mid-August.
Practices there have been visible in satellite imagery since June, as well as preparations inside the stadium, where the football field has now been completely covered in a white material.
“This performance will be of similar scale to the Guiness world record-breaking grand mass gymnastics and artistic performance ‘Arirang,’ but compared to the previous iteration, but the form and content will be completely new and exclusive, now drawing the interest and excitement of many,” the article said.
Other state media have indicated the performances – created through mandatory participation of tens of thousands of children and more seasoned acrobatic professionals – will run until the end of September.
Featured image: NK News