A grimace and a shrug, but no fear of U.S. strike in Pyongyang

PYONGYANG (Reuters) - Residents thronged the wide boulevards of North Korea’s capital Pyongyang on Wednesday, some practising for a parade to be held at the weekend, with no visible signs of the tensions engulfing the region over the isolated state’s weapons programs.

A U.S. aircraft carrier group is headed to Korean waters amid concerns that Pyongyang may conduct a nuclear or long-range missile test and threats from U.S. President Donald Trump of unilateral action “to solve the problem”.

It was a sunny, spring morning in Pyongyang and many people were on the streets around the city’s biggest sights, the Arch of Triumph and Kim Il Sung Square. Some of them spoke to Reuters journalists, who were escorted by North Korean officials.

“I am a normal citizen, so I don’t concentrate on politics too much,” said a woman who gave her name as Ri Hyon Sim. “But one thing is very very clear, so long as we are with our supreme leader Marshall Kim Jong Un we are not afraid of anything.”

North Korea has invited foreign media to cover celebrations this week of the 105th birth anniversary of founding president Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un. However, journalists’ movements are closely managed and conversations with the people are monitored.

As Ri spoke, women in flowing pink, red and yellow dresses walked by after dance rehearsals for a performance likely on Saturday when a parade is expected to celebrate Kim Il Sung’s birthday. North Korea also often marks important anniversaries with tests of its nuclear or missile capabilities.

Hyon Un Mi, a tour guide at the Arch of Triumph, built to commemorate Korean resistance to Japanese occupation in the early 20th century, said she was following events on television and in newspapers.

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She called the United States an imperialist power that wanted to occupy her country.

“Our people don’t like these imperialists ... In recent days they want to occupy our country again and again,” she said.

“The president of the U.S....,” Hyon said, tailing off with a shrug and a grimace.

North Korea remains technically at war with the United States and its ally South Korea after the 1950-1953 Korean conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

Hyon however said she wanted reunification between North and South Korea.

“Our people are suffering from the division,” she said, adding that she was distressed while watching a women’s football match between the two Koreas last week.

“All the people feel very sad watching the football, our country divided into two,” she said. The match ended in a 1-1 draw.

Additional reporting by James Pearson in Seoul, Writing and editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan