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Talking peace with a backdrop of war

By Paula Hancocks, CNN
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Sat July 27, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • North Korea calls the armistice celebration 'Victory Day'
  • Parade features references to "U.S. aggressors" and a crumpled U.S. flag
  • Military hardware on display will be scrutinized worldwide for signs of advancement

Pyongyang, North Korea (CNN) -- Two hours of tanks, bands and goose-stepping under a blazing sun.

Mass military parades are a North Korean specialty, but this year had added meaning: the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War that Pyongyang calls "Victory Day."

Thunderous applause and shouts of "Mansei," meaning "Live long and good health," signaled the arrival of the country's leader Kim Jong Un, accompanied by Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao.

Men and women alike raised their hands to applaud Kim. When he waved to the assembled crowd, thousands waved back.

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Peace is precious to North Korea. This is how one army officer summed up the speech given by Vice Marshal Choe Ryong Hae.

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The officer claimed there was no mention of the United States or South Korea, both considered enemies of the state, meaning the rhetoric is vastly different to a few months ago when nuclear was threatened.

Tensions have eased significantly recently, with the North Korean military saying it wants to resume joint recovery work with the United States to search for the remains of around 8,000 Americans still missing in action in the country sixty years later.

The parade looked to the past and present of the military. A dozen trucks filled with Korean War veterans drove slowly through Kim Il Sung Square past Kim Jong Un and the leadership with the elderly fighters dressed in uniform smiling and waving energetically. Many would have been in their 80s or 90s.

Soldiers then filed past in perfect unison armed with the weapons used in the 1950-1953 war. A highly choreographed event with barely a step out of place. The military practices two or three times a week for up to four months for this one day, according to the officer.

Even though there was no verbal anti-American rhetoric, the visual messages were clear.

On the front of every tank a special message has been painted in Korean. It said "let us annihilate U.S. aggressors, blood enemy of the Korean people." And one of the floats showed an American flag crumpled beneath a model of a Korean tank.

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Messages from helicopters flying overhead read: "We will defend Kim Jong Un to the death." Helicopters also staged a dramatic fly by, flying between buildings in pairs to pass just a few hundred feet from the leader. Fighter jets flying overhead drew a gasp from the enraptured crowd.

Bronze statues of the country's founder, Kim Il Sung, and his son, Kim Jong Il, were paraded through the capital's main square as were giant photos of the former leaders.

And the part of the parade that will be scrutinized around the world for any sign of new technology was the display of missiles in Pyongyang's arsenal. An army officer pointed to one that looked like a mid-range missile and said it could reach the U.S. island of Hawaii.

The military parade was the center piece of celebrations surrounding the 60th anniversary. Saturday is a national holiday in North Korea and tens of thousands of residents who joined in the public procession waved plastic flowers above their heads as they ran past the leader's balcony smiling and cheering.

It is an emotionally charged time for North Koreans attending the official festivities. The parade follows the opening of a Korean War cemetery Thursday and the Arirang mass games Friday night.

In photos: North Korea celebrates, 60 years on

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