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North Korea's Kim lauds army ahead of expected military parade

By Josh Smith

SEOUL, Feb 8 (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for strengthening the country's military, state media reported on Wednesday, as he paid tribute to soldiers and met with troops amid expectations for a major military parade showcasing the latest weapons.

Kim attended a banquet with his wife and daughter on Tuesday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Army, state media reported.

"For the strengthening and development of our armed forces, let us all double our efforts and do more for the prosperous development of the socialist motherland," he said during a speech at the banquet, according to state news agency KCNA.

The remarks came a day after he pledged to expand military drills and beef up the nuclear-armed country's war readiness posture.

In a separate report, KCNA cited Kim's leadership of large-scale military drills last year, including the flights of hundreds of fighter aircraft, as "inflicting a strong blow on the largest joint air exercise ever conducted by the United States and its agents" in November.

According to international analysts, commercial satellite imagery has for months shown North Korean troops practicing for a major military parade that is expected this week.

Such parades are typically held in downtown Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Square and are often used to show off new weapons, including ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads.

The last four military parades have been held after dark.

Illuminated aircraft flew low over Pyongyang about 1 a.m. Wednesday, and music could be heard from the square, suggesting a parade was imminent, Seoul-based NK News reported, citing videos it obtained.

Despite United Nations Security Council resolutions and sanctions, North Korea has forged ahead with banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development.

Last year North Korea test fired its largest-ever intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), amid a record year of launches, and officials in Seoul and Washington say it has made preparations to resume nuclear weapons testing for the first time since 2017.

South Korea and the United States have stepped up their own military drills to counter the North, drawing condemnation from Pyongyang. (Reporting by Josh Smith. Editing by Gerry Doyle)