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North Korean leader Kim attends concert glorifying his power

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his wife attended a Lunar New Year concert in Pyongyang where he received thunderous cheers from audiences and artists who praised him for heralded a “new era” of national power, state media reported.

Northern mainstream media highlighted Kim’s authoritarian leadership after a series of missile tests in January, which some experts see as an attempt to pressure Washington over stalled nuclear talks after two years of nuclear shutdowns. pandemic and economic decline borders.

The Biden administration called on the UN Security Council to meet on Thursday to discuss North Korea’s latest test of an intermediate-range missile potentially capable of reaching Guam, a key US military hub in the Pacific. Sunday’s test signaled a resumption of major weapons testing that Kim suspended in 2018 as he began diplomacy with then-US President Donald Trump.

Talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since the failed second Kim-Trump meeting in 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for a major lifting of crippling US-led sanctions in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

Korea’s Central News Agency said on Wednesday that Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, were greeted with “stormy cheers” after arriving at Pyongyang’s massive Mansudae Art Theater for Tuesday’s concert. KCNA said the audience appreciates that Kim is “using on this land a new world and a new era where people’s ideals, happiness and desire to build a mighty country are fully translated into reality.”

The artists performed songs and dances that demonstrated the “unity of spirit” of the North Korean people and their dedication to building a socialist country “which will be the envy of the world”, according to the report.

North Korean television showed Kim galloping through a forest on Tuesday on a white horse – a symbol associated with his family’s dynastic rule over the country – in a new documentary praising his alleged achievements in 2021, including anti-virus campaigns, construction projects and weapons development. .

One scene showed Kim – noticeably thinner than in previous months – walking gingerly through a rainy construction site as a narrator said he showed off his ‘motherly side by devoting his whole body to making people’s dreams come true’ .

South Korean intelligence officials told lawmakers in October that Kim had lost about 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of weight, but remained in good health and was trying to bolster public loyalty to him as he he was navigating the most difficult period of his reign due to worsening economic difficulties. by the pandemic.

The North’s accelerated weapons tests, which came as part of efforts to build internal unity and tighten the government’s grip on the economy, may reflect a sense of urgency within the Pyongyang’s direction for outside help, analysts said.

While tentatively reopening freight train traffic with China last month, Kim is also relaunching his tightrope playbook to wrest concessions from the Biden administration, which has offered indefinite talks but has not agreed. showed no willingness to ease sanctions unless Kim takes real steps to give up his nuclear power. weapons program.

Sunday’s flight test of the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile marked the longest range weapon the North has tested since 2017, when it twice flew Hwasong-12s over Japan and, separately, three intercontinental ballistic missiles that demonstrated the potential to reach deep into the American homeland.

The launch came days after Kim called a ruling party meeting where officials issued a veiled threat to end the North’s 2018 moratorium on testing nuclear devices and longer-range missiles, citing American hostility.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by telephone with Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa and condemned North Korea’s recent ballistic tests, which violated UN Security Council resolutions, and pledged trilateral cooperation with South Korea to deal with the North Korean threat, the State Department said. said spokesman Ned Price.

Experts say the North may halt its round of testing after the start of the Winter Olympics in Beijing this week out of respect for China, its main ally and economic lifeline. But it’s also expected he could dramatically up the ante in weapons displays once the Olympics wraps up later this month to draw the attention of the Biden administration, which has grown more focused on confronting China and Russia over its conflict with Ukraine.