Low-key celebrations for North Korea’s founder in face of virus

SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea marked the anniversary of the birth of its founder Kim Il-sung in subdued fashion yesterday, with mask-wearing citizens placing flowers before his statue in Pyongyang as the country imposes strict anti-COVID-19 measures.

The grandfather of the current leader Kim Jong-un was born 108 years ago and April 15 is the most important date in the North’s annual political calendar, where it is known as the Day of the Sun.

But Pyongyang has imposed tight restrictions against the pandemic that has swept the world since emerging in neighbouring China, closing its borders and for a time quarantining thousands of its own citizens as well as hundreds of foreigners, and insists that it has not seen a single case.

Pyongyang residents arrived at Mansu hill, where giant bronze statues of Kim and his son and successor Kim Jong-il gaze out over the capital, to lay flowers at their base.

But they came in much smaller groups than the sometimes hundreds-strong detachments of workers or soldiers seen on previous occasions. “The great President Kim Il-sung will be with us forever”, read a floral frieze in front of the effigies. In normal times hundreds of baskets would stand in front of the statues by mid-morning, with a thick layer of flowers placed at their base, but far fewer were to be seen at the same time yesterday.