Pyongyang, North Korea | AFP | An expectant hush fell on the crowd as the giant screen outside Pyongyang’s main train station went black on Friday afternoon.
Workers, students in grey uniforms, travelling families surrounded by piles of bags, women shielding themselves from the late summer sun with frilly parasols, for several minutes they all gazed at the rectangle with anticipation.
White text appeared on a red background: “The faith of the revolutionary is unchangeable even in death.”
Korean Central Television’s main bulletin, which airs soon after 3pm (0630 GMT), can be relied on to focus on the doings of the Supreme Leader, as Kim Jong-Un is known in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.
But after Kim’s stingingly personal denunciation of US President Donald Trump was carried in the Friday edition of the Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the mouthpiece of the ruling Workers’ Party, and the official Korean Central News Agency, expectations for the broadcast were high.
Then veteran newsreader Ri Chun-Hee appeared, who in her time has announced nuclear tests, rocket launches and leaders’ deaths.
She read out Kim’s statement over a picture of him sitting at his desk in his office at the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party.
“A frightened dog barks louder,” the statement declared, as scores of citizens streamed towards the screen, bringing the crowd to hundreds of people.
They watched with grim expressions of resolve as Kim threatened to make Trump “pay dearly” for his threat at the United Nations to “totally destroy” North Korea.
– ‘Crazy dog’ –
In the still image on screen, Kim looked straight into the camera, a microphone before him, the bookshelves behind him packed with green volumes – possibly the works of his father and grandfather Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung, his dynastic predecessors.
“He is framing the speech very much as the leader of his country,” John Delury of Yonsei University in Seoul told AFP.
Unlike most North Korean pronouncements, which tend to focus on governments rather than individuals, it was an unusually direct condemnation of the US president, calling him “mentally deranged” and a “dotard”.
Kim said the property mogul and reality television star turned politician had been criticised on the US campaign trail as a “political layman”.
“Trump has rendered the world restless through threats and blackmail against all countries in the world,” the statement said. “He is unfit to hold the prerogative of supreme command of a country, and he is surely a rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire, rather than a politician.”
Despite being one of the world’s youngest heads of state and less than half Trump’s age, with six years in office Kim has significantly longer experience in politics.
The North Korean leader was “almost talking down to him and saying you are not supposed to speak that way at the UN”, said Delury.
To the audience in Pyongyang, it was inspirational.
North Korea imposes strict bans on foreign publications and news, aiming to ensure that its citizens only see and read the comprehensively controlled domestic media, which constantly reinforce the official stance that the country is at risk of invasion by the United States and needs nuclear weapons to protect itself.
“We no longer need any words,” said construction worker Kim Kwang-Hyok after watching the bulletin, clenching his fist. “I think that a crazy dog should be dealt with using a club and fire.”
Ordinary North Korean citizens normally only ever express sentiments in line with the authorities when speaking to foreign media.
Ryu Ri Hwa, 74, said she had been through the Korean War and was feeling “indescribable anger”.
“Now we have nuclear weapons so I am feeling very confident. We can win the war a hundred, a thousand times as long as we have our leader!” she cried, as onlookers applauded.
“Trump is a lunatic, lunatic! A lunatic who knows nothing!”