United Kingdom

North Koreans don masks to celebrate birth of founder despite country's claims of no Covid cases

Thousands of North Koreans wearing masks danced in a plaza and climbed a hill in Pyongyang to mark the 109th birthday of the country's founder despite Kim Jong Un's claims there have been no coronavirus cases in the state.

The grandfather of the current leader, Kim Il Sung, was born 109 years ago and April 15 is the most important public holiday, known as the Day of the Sun.

No major events like a military parade were expected this year as North Korea typically stages them for anniversaries that end in zero and five but celebrations went ahead in lavish style.

North Koreans danced during the evening gala and fireworks event marking the birth anniversary of late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, known as the 'Day of the Sun', in the central Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang yesterday

With the backdrop of an impressive fireworks display, large groups of North Koreans gathered in a plaza in Pyongyang and danced together while wearing masks

Despite claims the country has had no coronavirus cases, people were seen wearing masks to many of the events in the capital. Pictured: Women's Alliance ball celebrating the birthday of the country's founder and Eternal President Kim Il Sung at the Arch of Triumph Square in Pyongyang

As part of the celebrations North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol Ju (pictured centre) watched a performance in celebration of the Day of the Sun in Pyongyang

Neatly dressed North Koreans visited Pyongyang's Mansu Hill yesterday to lay flowers and bow below the towering bronze statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il (pictured) 

People laid large floral tributes to the former North Korean leader and founder as part of celebrations for his birth day in Pyongyang (pictured)

The Day of the Sun is North Korea's most important public holiday and celebrates the birth of the country's founder Kim Il Sung (left) who was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Il (right), after his death in 1994

Neatly dressed North Koreans visited Pyongyang's Mansu Hill yesterday to lay flowers and bow below the towering bronze statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il which look over the capital.  

'Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il will always be with us' read a floral frieze.Soldiers wearing masks were also seen saluting.

Elsewhere in Pyongyang, women wearing colorful traditional clothes performed a folk dance.

Other women passed along a nearby street decorated with a poster that read, 'Kim Il Sung, our comrade and greater leader, will always be with us.'

Kim Il Sung, a former guerrilla fighter during the Japanese colonial period, founded North Korea in 1948 and still maintains a godlike status in the North. 

North Korean army officers visit the Mansu Hill on the occasion of the Day of the Sun and salute to the statues of their former leaders

People laid flowers at the feet of the statues of Kim Il Sung which sit atop Mansu Hill in Pyongyan, the North Korean capital yesterday 

People were surprised to learn the country went on to celebrate its most important public holiday in lavish style because they are typically held on anniversaries that end in zero and five 

The enormous dancing displays with hundreds of performers continued through the evening as part of celebrations

A variety of performances (pictured) were laid on for the day to celebrate the 109th birth anniversary of state founder Kim Il Sung

Kim Il Sung died in 1994 but remains the country's Eternal President, and his preserved body lies in state in a red-lit chamber at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun on the outskirts of the capital. Pictured: Women in brightly coloured clothing attend celebrations in the capital 

A large orchestra was among the performances put on for Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol Ju in Pyongyang yesterday

He was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Il, after his death in 1994. After Kim Jong Il died in 2011, his son and current leader Kim Jong Un took power in the country´s second hereditary power transfer.

North Koreans are taught from birth to revere Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, and all adults wear badges depicting one or both men.

Kim Il Sung died in 1994 but remains the country's Eternal President, and his preserved body lies in state in a red-lit chamber at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun on the outskirts of the capital.

Thursday's anniversary comes as Kim Jong Un is rallying the public that's been struggling with an economy battered by shortages of imported goods and sharply reduced trade due to pandemic-related border closures, U.S.-led sanctions and natural disasters last summer. 

The country is more isolated than ever after it imposed a strict border lockdown to protect itself from the coronavirus pandemic that first emerged in neighbouring China.

It still insists that it has not had any cases of the disease - a claim which is disputed by outside experts - but has paid a heavy economic price. 

North Koreans are taught from birth to revere Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, and all adults wear badges depicting one or both men

The country is more isolated than ever after it imposed a strict border lockdown to protect itself from the coronavirus pandemic that first emerged in neighbouring China. Pictured: A fireworks display in Pyongyang last night

Hundreds of guests applaud during a performance put on for the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his wife, Ri Sol Ju,in Pyongyang 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visiting the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, together with his wife Ri Sol Ju  to mark the Day of the Sun

As the current leader Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol Ju paid tribute to the country's leader, other officials accompanied them following behind in a large procession

Floral tributes were also left beside the statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il during a visit at the Kumsusan Palace of Sun as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his wife, Ri Sol Ju pay tribute to Kim Il Sung

Citizens, many of the women in traditional dress, were assembled in key locations for performances to mark the occasion. In the streets, everyone wore masks, although the dancers for the shows had their faces uncovered.

It represented an increase in festivities compared with last year's subdued events.

'North Korea has brought the commemorations back to almost normal compared to last year when most activities were cancelled due to Covid,' Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul said. 

Nonetheless several usual elements were missing, notably the Pyongyang Marathon, the country's biggest annual tourism money-spinner, which was again cancelled due to the pandemic. 

Leader Kim was absent from the commemorations last year, raising eyebrows at the start of an extended period out of public view that triggered feverish speculation over his health.

But, unlike in 2020, a floral basket stood in pride of place in front of the statues, the usual location for his tribute.

Some experts say North Korea may carry out a major missile test to draw U.S. attention and win its concessions in any future negotiations.

President Joe Biden is expected to complete his administration's comprehensive North Korea policy review soon.

Earlier this week Kim John Un posed for pictures with delegates to a ruling party conference.

At a five-yearly party congress in January he repeatedly apologised for mistakes in economic management, saying the last five years had been the 'worst' time.

The godlike founder of North Korean: Who was Kim Il Sung?

Kim Il Sung was the founder of North Korea, which he ruled from the country's establishment in 1948 until his death in 1994. 

His family is said to have originated from Jeonju, North Jeolla Province and he is believed to have been born in the village of Mangyongdae near the capital. 

Kim Il Sung (pictured) was the founder of North Korea, which he ruled from the country's establishment in 1948 until his death in 1994

There are varying theories as to how his family ended up in Manchuria. 

Government accounts claim his family were forced to flee after their involvement in anti-Japanese activities. 

Other accounts suggest they, like many other families at the time, had fled their due to escape famine.

At just 17 he had become the youngest member of an underground Marxist organisation before it was discovered just a few months later and he was jailed for several months. 

He joined the Communist Party of China in (CPC)  1931 as well as various other anti-Japanese guerilla groups in northern China. 

Four years later he became a member of the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army, an guerilla group founded by the CPC, before going on become a Major in the Soviet Red Army, serving in it until the end of World War Two. 

He rose to power in 1945 after the end of Japanese rule and, after making his way up the ranks, in 1950 authorised the invasion of South Korea for which the United Nations provided support to South Korea. A ceasefire was calling 1953.

The former guerrilla fighter went on to be the third longest-serving non-royal head of state or government in the 20th century, speaking more than 45 years in office. 

Under his reign, the country was declared a communist state and had close links with the Soviet Union - soon enjoying better economic success than their neighbours in the South until the 1980s.  

Football news:

Martin Edegor: It's important to understand what Real Madrid wants. I'm happy at Arsenal
Cavani, 34, has 10 goals for Manchester United in this Premier League. Only Zlatan and Sheringham have scored so many goals in 33+ years
There was no place for a football field on the Thai island - and it was built directly above the water. So an amazing team was born
Cavani threw the Fulham goalkeeper over from 40 yards. The striker has 9 goals in his last 10 games for Manchester United
Reuss will not go to the Euro with Germany: I will allow my body to recover after a difficult season with Borussia Dortmund
Jan Oblak: Messi is the best. He and Ronaldo have marked an era, what they have achieved is admirable
Benzema will be number 19 in the French national team. Deschamps may change tactics for him