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Story highlights

North Korea to stage a massive military parade this weekend for 70th anniversary of its central political party

Workers' Party of Korea wields power over the state, with Kim Jong Un as its leader

Satellite images suggest massive scale of weekend's celebration

(CNN) —  

North Korea’s weekend celebration marking the 70th anniversary of its central political party could turn out to be one of the biggest military parades ever for the country, according to analysis of satellite images.

The anniversary, which in essence celebrates the founding of the North Korean state, is expected to go all out in terms of showing its military muscle, along with mass dancing and in-synch marching. The spectacle is supposed to be a showcase of loyalty and support for its leader, Kim Jong Un.

It’s also the occasion when international observers scrutinize details including who appears with Kim in public for clues into his inner circle, as well as what kind of military hardware Pyongyang parades and whether the leadership will conduct any sort of weapons testing.

The preparations for the Workers’ Party of Korea anniversary appear to have begun as early as May, when satellite images captured approximately 45 tents assembled at a former Pyongyang airbase, according to an analysis posted on website 38 North.

By October, that area had swelled to about 800 tents, 700 trucks and 200 armored vehicles, with people appearing to move in formations “possibly in preparation for the parade,” wrote Joseph Bermudez Jr, an analyst on North Korean affairs.

READ: A rare glimpse at North Korea’s military might

He concluded that “regardless of whether ballistic missiles are present or not, (it) will be one of the largest in North Korea’s history.”

Major holiday for North Korea

The parade, expected to take place Saturday, is one of North Korea’s most significant holidays – next to the birthdays of the country’s founder Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il.

“We want to celebrate in the most significant way,” Sin Un Gyong, a North Korean student told CNN’s Will Ripley in Pyongyang.

It’s one of the few dates that the North Korean leader can be expected to make a public appearance. Although last year, Kim didn’t show during an extended, mysterious absence that lasted over a month.

The power of the party

The Workers’ Party of Korea is the political party that governs and runs North Korea.

“The Workers’ Party is the locus of power in North Korea,” Sung-Yoon Lee, professor of Korean Studies at Tufts University. “The party runs everything.”

It was founded 70 years ago, after World War II and following the end of the Japanese occupation of Korea. With the Korean peninsula in disarray, a group chaired by Kim Il Sung in the Soviet-occupied northern part formed the Communist political party that came to be known as the Workers’ Party of Korea.

READ: Celebration reinforces Kim dynasty’s iron grip on power

Kim held control of the party, and membership became highly coveted as it meant better job prospects, status and quality of life for elite North Koreans.

His heirs, son Kim Jong Il and grandson Kim Jong Un, have held the central role in the party, although their official titles have all differed. Kim Jong Un retains the title of first secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

“We have this notion that it’s the military calling the shots,” Lee said.

“It isn’t. It’s actually the party controlling the military. In the simplest sense, the party makes all key personnel decisions in the military, who gets promoted, who gets executed.

“Because the party is so central to the system hierarchy, the 70th anniversary is very important and I think North Korea has an internal and external need to use this occasion to show off and to show the world and U.S. its weapons with mid or long-range capabilities.”

Foreign dignitaries, media and tourists are gathering in Pyongyang for the spectacle. China’s Liu Yunshan, who is one of the top leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, is expected to attend, according to North Korean state media KCNA.

North Korean media has also been full of its usual listings of gifts and congratulatory messages from its international friends.