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SEOUL: North Korea marked the anniversary of the birth of its founder Kim Il Sung Thursday, with mask-wearing citizens placing flowers before his statue in Pyongyang. The grandfather of the current leader Kim Jong Un was born 109 years ago and April 15 is the most important date in the nuclear-armed state’s annual political calendar, where it is known as the Day of the Sun.

But the country is more isolated than ever after it imposed a strict border lockdown to protect itself from the coronavirus pandemic that first emerged in neighbouring China. It still insists that it has not had any cases of the disease — a claim that analysts doubt — but has paid a heavy economic price.

Groups of Pyongyang residents went to Mansu hill, where giant bronze statues of founder Kim and his son and successor Kim Jong Il gaze out over the capital, to lay flowers at their base.