N. Korea stages military parade to mark war anniversary

PYONGYANG - The North Korean capital Pyongyang put its military hardware on show at a major parade to mark the 60th anniversary of the Korean War ceasefire, presided over by leader Kim Jong-Un.

Thousands of troops and spectators roared "Protect Kim Jong-Un with our lives" when the youthful leader appeared on the podium, flanked by top party and military leaders at the sprawling Kim Il-Sung square, state TV showed.

The parade, to mark the 60th anniversary of the Korean War ceasefire on July 27, 1953 will be closely watched for any evidence that the North has made tangible progress in its ballistic missile programme.

The last mass military parade in the North Korean capital was held on April 15 last year, for the birth centenary of the North's founder leader Kim Il-Sung.

Since then, the North successfully launched a long-range rocket in December and conducted its third nuclear test in February.

Both events drew UN sanctions and triggered a dangerous surge in military tensions on the Korean peninsula that lasted for several months.

At Saturday's parade, Kim and his troops saluted as the blue, white and red national flag and the yellow and red flag of the ruling Workers' Party were raised.

"Let's fight, fight, fight... for our republic!" soldiers chanted.

The parade was conducted with two large portraits of Kim's father and grandfather hung on the front side of the gigantic Grand People's Study Hall, situated on the square.

Choe Ryong-Hae, the North's highest military official, said in a speech that "the proud and victorious history" created by the North's founder Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il had passed down to "our great general Kim Jong-Un" in a third generation succession.

"The respected leader Kim Jong-Un has upgraded our military and taken the solidarity among our people to a whole new level", Choe said.

"Peaceful environment is more important than anything else for our country that strives to achieve economic construction and improvement of the lives of people".

He said, however, North Korea has to be ready for war if it wants peace. "All servicemen and people should... strengthen our defence and be firmly prepared to fend off any attacks from the outside."

The parade last April witnessed the first major public speech by Kim Jong-Un since coming to power following his father Kim Jong-Il's death in December 2011.

He was widely expected to make a similar address on Saturday.

China's Vice President Li Yuanchao, heading the Chinese delegation invited for the anniversary celebrations, joined Kim on the podium.

China's relationship with North Korea - famously described by Mao Zedong as being as close as "lips and teeth" - was forged in the 1950-53 Korean war which China entered to prevent the North's total defeat.

But it has weakened significantly over the years, as China's economic transformation has distanced it from the ideological rigidity of the dynastic Kim regime across the border.

In line with UN sanctions, Beijing has moved to restrict Pyongyang's financial operations in China which the international community says are the major conduit for funding its nuclear weapons programme.

Li is the most senior Chinese official to visit Pyongyang since Kim took power.

During talks on Wednesday, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua said Li told Kim that Beijing would push for a resumption of talks on the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

Li joined Kim on Friday evening to watch a performance of the Arirang mass games by tens of thousands of gymnasts, dancers and students at Pyongyang's 150,000-capacity May Day stadium.

Prior to the performance, the head of North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly Kim Yong-Nam gave a speech, praising the North's "great victory" in the Korean War.

"The US imperialists sustained a heavy defeat for the first time in their more than 100-year-long history of wars of aggression," Kim said.