Fires of passion: North Korea holds torch parade

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North Korea's torch parades are a unique spectacle, a display of formation marching and running and that requires strict discipline from the participants

Thousands of North Koreans wielding burning torches and shouting slogans filled Kim Il Sung square Monday in celebration of the country's 70th birthday.

North Korea's torch parades are a unique spectacle, a display of formation marching and running and that requires strict discipline from the participants.

Holding their elbows out at 90 degrees, they dash from position to position to form slogans and other shapes filling the square in the centre of Pyongyang.

"Long live Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism," they cried first as portraits of the country's founder and his son and successor were driven through the plaza.

"Long live the Supreme Leader Comrade Kim Jong Un," they went on, referring to the third generation of the family to rule the country.

"Long live the invincible Workers Party of Korea".

The display was part of the commemorations of the foundation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as the North is officially known, on September 9, 1948, three years after Moscow and Washington divided the peninsula in the closing days of the Second World War.

The anniversary was also marked with a military parade, in which nuclear-armed Pyongyang -- engaged in a diplomatic rapprochement with both Seoul and Washington -- refrained from showing off the intercontinental ballistic missiles that have seen it subjected to multiple rounds of international sanctions.

It has also staged its renowned Mass Games -- a propaganda display on a vast scale -- for the first time in five years, this time including footage of Kim meeting Seoul's President Moon Jae-in at their summit in the Demilitarized Zone.

At the torch parade, the paraffin wax candles are not especially heavy, say former participants.

But unlike at the military parade or the subsequent civilian rallies, the same people -– most of them students and workers -- perform for the whole event, which lasts nearly an hour.

"Let us defend the General Kim Jong Un with our lives," they sang as fireworks filled the sky.

And after the music stopped they maintained their position, elbows still out, standing lined up in silence as the invited audience began to file away.