By Siobhan Robbins, Southeast Asia Correspondent, and Sunita Patel-Carstairs, News Reporter
North Korea has held a military parade in a show of strength on the eve of the Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Pictures of the event, which included a display of weapons including missiles, guns and armoured vehicles, were broadcast on state television.
Thousands of goose-stepping troops could be seen saluting a smiling Kim Jong Un, who was dressed in black, flanked by military personnel and also his wife Ri Sol Ju in a rare appearance.
Performers holding aloft colourful props also lined up to form words and slogans during the procession in Kim II Sung Square.
Mr Kim told cheering crowds the parade illustrated North Korea’s emergence as a “world class military power” despite facing the “worst sanctions”.
He called for his military to maintain a high level of combat readiness against the United States and its “followers” so the “invasive forces cannot infringe upon or harass the republic’s sacred dignity and autonomy, even by 0.001 millimetres”.
The event is understood to have lasted for about an hour and was spotted by South Korea intelligence officials on satellite.
Seoul’s Yonhap news agency quoted an anonymous government source, saying: “It seems that North Korea opened the parade at 10.30am (Seoul time).”
Images from the event are likely to have been carefully selected to avoid revealing too much information about Mr Kim’s arsenal.
In the past, international security experts have analysed footage released to try to glean information about Pyongyang’s military capability.
The secretive state had said it would hold a big event to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of its military.
It also previously defended its decision to move the annual parade from April to February, saying no one had the right to take issue with the change.
“It is a custom and very basic common sense that any country in the world takes the founding of its military very seriously and celebrates it with extravagant events,” said the ruling Workers’ Party newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun.
While the main organiser of the Olympics said the display would not affect the “dynamics” of the event, the United States had said it would prefer the North did not go ahead with it.
US Vice President Mike Pence warned the US was preparing “the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever” and it was vital to ensure Pyongyang “doesn’t use the powerful symbolism in the backdrop of the (Games) to paper over the truth about their regime”.
He told US troops at Yokota Air Base in Japan that the US and its allies were striving to peacefully dismantle the regime’s nuclear programme and alleviate the suffering of its people, but reiterated that all options were on the table.
On Thursday, Mr Pence arrived in Pyeonchang – just 50 miles from the North Korean border – for the Winter Olympics.
North Korea’s participation in the Games has been seen as a breakthrough following months of escalating tensions.
However, state news agency KCNA reported that officials have no intention of meeting with the Americans during the event, dampening hopes it could help resolve the tense stand-off.
“We have never begged for dialogue with the United States and it will be the same going forward,” it reported, citing Cho Yong Sam, director-general of the North American department of North Korea’s foreign ministry.
Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, is expected to attend the opening ceremony on Friday as part of the delegation being sent from the North.
Officials in Seoul said the dictator’s decision to send his closest confidant and a high-ranking member of the Workers’ Party reflected positively on efforts to ease tensions in the region.
Opponents believe the North is merely using the Olympics to get the tough sanctions against it reduced.