PYONGYANG, North Korea — Despite North Korea’s warnings that the threat of war on the Korean Peninsula is so high it cannot guarantee the safety of foreign residents, it hosted athletes from around the world for its biggest international marathon yet ahead of today’s commemoration of the country’s most important holiday.
The race through the North Korean capital Sunday suggested that the country’s concerns of an imminent military crisis might not be as dire as its official pronouncements proclaim. The mixed message has been especially striking in the lead-up to the birthday of national founder Kim Il Sung.
Early today, Kim’s grandson and current dynastic leader, Kim Jong Un, visited the Pyongyang mausoleum to pay “high tribute in humblest reverence” where his grandfather’s body lies embalmed, the official Korean Central News Agency said. He also visited the embalmed body of his father, the country’s second leader, who died in December 2011.
Foreign governments have been struggling to assess how seriously to take North Korea’s recent torrent of angry rhetoric over continuing U.S.-South Korea military maneuvers just across the border.
But there has not been much sense of crisis in Pyongyang.
On Sunday, athletes from 16 nations competed in the 26th Mangyongdae Prize Marathon in the morning and then filled a performance hall for a gala concert featuring ethnic Korean performers brought in from China, Russia and Japan as part of the events culminating in Kim’s birthday — called the “Day of the Sun.”
After racing through the capital, the foreign athletes and hundreds of North Korean runners were cheered into Kim Il Sung Stadium by tens of thousands of North Korean spectators.