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North Korea holds ruling party congress in show of defiance and strength

North Korea's ruling party has begun its first congress in 36 years, with an aim to cement Kim Jong Un's status as the country's supreme leader. The meeting takes place at a time of rising tensions in the region.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is expected to deliver a keynote speech at the Workers' Party congress on Friday, but beyond that not much is known about the agenda of the grand meeting that is being held after a hiatus of nearly four decades. The communist country's ruling elite is known for keeping state matters secret.

Observers, however, say the convention is an effort by the ruling party to consolidate Kim's position as the undisputed and legitimate leader of the country.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guides on the spot the underwater test-fire of strategic submarine ballistic missile in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency © Reuters/KCNA

A long-range ballistic missile test in February drew international condemnation

The last Workers' Party congress, held in 1980, crowned Kim's father Kim Jong Il as heir to his father and North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung. In theory, the congress of the Workers' Party must be held every five years.

There has been speculation that the party meeting will be preceded by another nuclear test as a show of strength and defiance to the Western world.

The congress takes place at a time of

rising tensions on the Korean peninsula

, following the North's alleged hydrogen bomb test in January and the launch of a long-range ballistic missile on February 7.

Great enthusiasm

In preparation for the event, the capital Pyongyang has been decorated with national and party flags, with Workers' Party members actively participating in the preparations.

Banners carrying slogans such as "Great comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il will always be with us," and gigantic portraits of Kim Jong Un, fill the streets.

"We volunteer to take part in these big events to show that we, the people, are united in support of our respected marshal, and to demonstrate our political commitment," said Ryu Jin Song, a university student, speaking with the Associated Press.

The international community will be closely monitoring the convention for any potential policy shift or government changes.

"It remains to be seen if there will be a tangible outcome with a policy change or the setting of a new course," Eric Ballbach, a researcher from the Institute of Korean Studies at Berlin's Free University,

told DW

.

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