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People react as they see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the country's founding father Kim Il Sung's birth, in Pyongyang, North Korea, April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj


By Damir Sagolj

PYONGYANG - North Koreans stage a demonstration of devotion to their leader Kim Jong Un at least once a year, in a large ceremonial square in Pyongyang.

"Mansae!" the people call as they parade past the 33-year old, who stands on a balcony above them: "Live long!"

This December, Kim will mark six years in power. In that time he has purged or executed around 340 people, according to the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank of South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS).

The people on parade carry flowers including North Korea's national blooms, Kimilsungia and Kimjongilia, which were specially created in honour of Kim's grandfather and father, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

North Korea is the only socialist country to have passed power down the family line. Images of former presidents are pinned on the left side of every jacket and dress. They are worn there to be close to the wearers' hearts.

In private conversations, some North Koreans quietly lament the shortcomings of their system: It's too bureaucratic, takes too long to get things done, is disorganised, they say. But few dare to openly criticise the Supreme Leader.

North Korea's GDP per capita, estimated at $1,700 in the CIA Factbook, places it 215th in the world – it is poorer than Haiti, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan. Defectors say many North Koreans lead double lives, earning money in unofficial market places to supplement state incomes. The leadership turns a blind eye to this.

Traditionally, Pyongyang has been the home of North Korea's elites. But the inhabitants of the capital must also prepare for the parades. Around this time, everyone everywhere must increase production in a process known as a "battle." People, organised into work units, are assigned duties on top of their usual jobs.

The "70-day battle" ahead of a Party congress in 2016 meant long after-work hours sprucing up the capital. State media released a report: Some work units had delivered 110 percent of their quotas.

The fatigue shows in some flower-wavers' faces.

On June 1, 2016, the country announced that a new campaign of celebration was to be held. This time, it said, the battle would last 200 days.

This text accompanies pictures of North Koreans on parade: http://reut.rs/2zvLZ3B

(Reporting by James Pearson and Hyonhee Shin; Edited by Sara Ledwith)

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