By Josh Smith and Soo-hyang Choi
SEOUL (Reuters) -North Korea held a widely anticipated nighttime military parade on Wednesday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported, an event expected to showcase the country’s latest weapons to mark the founding anniversary of its army.
Commercial satellite imagery has for months shown North Korean troops practicing for a major parade, according to international analysts.
Pyongyang’s state media had not reported on the parade as of Wednesday night, though outlets described a number of other commemorative events marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army.
North Korea’s past four military parades occurred after dark, and state media did not report on the events until the next day. It was not immediately known if North Korean leader Kim Jong Un presided over Wednesday’s parade.
Such parades are typically held in downtown Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square and often used to show off new weapons, including ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads.
Kim called on Tuesday for strengthening the military as he paid tribute to soldiers and met with troops to commemorate the anniversary, the North’s state media reported on Wednesday.
“For the strengthening and development of our armed forces, let us all double our efforts and do more for the prosperous development of the socialist motherland,” he said during a speech at a banquet, accompanied by his wife and daughter, according to state news agency KCNA.
He spoke a day after pledging to expand military drills and beef up the nuclear-armed country’s war readiness posture.
In a separate report, KCNA cited Kim’s leadership of large-scale military drills last year, including the flights of hundreds of fighter aircraft, as “inflicting a strong blow on the largest joint air exercise ever conducted by the United States and its agents” in November.
Despite United Nations Security Council resolutions and sanctions, North Korea has forged ahead with banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development.
Last year North Korea test-fired its largest ever intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), amid a record year of launches, and officials in Seoul and Washington say Pyongyang has made preparations to resume nuclear weapons testing for the first time since 2017.
South Korea and the United States have stepped up their own military drills to counter the North, drawing condemnation from Pyongyang.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; editing by Gerry Doyle and Mark Heinrich)