Nuclear fears ahead of North Korea congress

North Korea’s rain-soaked capital was festooned with banners celebrating leader Kim Jong Un ahead of a ruling party congress, as rival South Korea expressed concern that Pyongyang could conduct a nuclear test before or during the rare event.

Flower pots lined balconies along streets that have been tidied as part of a 70-day campaign for the first Workers’ Party congress in 36 years, which starts on Friday.

Security has been stepped up ahead of the congress.

The Daily NK, a website run by defectors with sources in North Korea, said that since mid-April, free movement in and out of the capital had been stopped and security personnel summoned from the provinces to step up domestic surveillance.

At the congress, Kim is expected to declare isolated North Korea a nuclear weapons state and formally adopt his “Byongjin” policy to push simultaneously for economic development and nuclear capability.

It follows Kim’s father’s Songun, or “military first,” policy and his grandfather’s Juche, the North’s home-grown founding ideology that combines Marxism and extreme nationalism.

“Let’s uphold Great Comrade Kim Jong Un’s Songun revolutionary leadership with patriotism!” one banner read.

Isolated North Korea has conducted a series of weapons tests, including three failed launches of an intermediate-range missile, in the run-up to the Workers’ Party congress.

One banner in Pyongyang extolled a February rocket launch that put a satellite in space. Overseas, however, the launch drew condemnation as a ballistic missile test in disguise.

Kim has aggressively pursued nuclear weapons and could be looking to a successful fifth test this week as a crowning achievement, foreign analysts have said. South Korean Defence Minister Han Min-koo said Pyongyang’s nuclear test may come before or around the time of the opening of the congress.

“North Korea’s goal is to be internationally recognised as a nuclear weapons state,” Han told a parliamentary hearing.

“We believe its nuclear capability is advancing.”

North Korea has invited foreign media to cover the congress, although journalists’ movements are closely managed and much of the country and its people remain off-limits to outsiders.


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