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article imageGood morning Vietnam! Grinning Kim in colourful station arrival

By Nhac NGUYEN (AFP)     Feb 25, 2019 in World

A jovial North Korean leader Kim Jong Un grinned and waved as he walked the red carpet from a Vietnamese rail station Tuesday, as flag-waving children and white-uniformed honour guards greeted him after a marathon two-and-a-half-day rail journey across China.

Wearing his trademark Mao-style black suit, Kim disembarked from his olive green armoured train surrounded by a crush of security and aides as the guards presented arms.

Emerging from the station, he was met by a military band and a swarm of press that had waited overnight in the rain for his arrival.

He walked ahead of his entourage to greet Vietnamese officials, prompting a trailing interpreter to scurry to his side as he shook hands with visiting dignitaries.

Kim was greeted in Hanoi by cheering crowds
Kim was greeted in Hanoi by cheering crowds
Noel CELIS, AFP

Kim was quickly ushered into a waiting black Mercedes-Benz, his arm emerging from a rolled-down window to wave to crowds before briefly stopping in front of a group of students in school uniforms gleefully brandishing North Korean and Vietnamese flags.

Twelve bodyguards jogged alongside Kim's car as he left the train station to head to Hanoi for a highly anticipated second summit with US President Donald Trump over Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal.

Kim's motorcade of 20 or so cars drove along a closed 170-kilometre (100-mile) stretch of road to Hanoi, accompanied by police motorbikes outfitted with Korean flags and security vehicles.

He was greeted in Hanoi by cheering crowds near the colonial-era pastel yellow Hanoi Opera House before he arrived at the Melia hotel where he was expected to stay this week.

Vietnam is pulling out all the stops for Kim's visit, clearing roads and deploying armoured vehicles and gun-toting guards across the busy capital.

Kim waved at well-wishers from his motorcade
Kim waved at well-wishers from his motorcade
Nhac NGUYEN, AFP

Ahead of his arrival, the normally sleepy Dong Dang train station in northern Vietnam -- a stone's throw from the China border -- was abuzz with activity as soldiers and sniffer dogs were sent to the site.

Hoang Thi Thuy, a local official from the Dong Dang women's union, said she had waited in the cold rain since before dawn for a glimpse of Kim.

"I was so excited when we were told to stand in place for the arrival of the train... When the train arrived, we saw the leader from afar. Seeing that, I felt so happy. It's hard to describe," said Thuy.

Nong Thi Ghi, 33, who works at the local Cao Loc High School, said the most memorable moment was Kim's stroll on the red carpet.

"When the car left, I felt sad as the moment we'd all been waiting for was over so quickly," Ghi told AFP.

- 'Strong message' -

Joining Kim from Pyongyang was his sister Kim Yo Jong, one of his closest aides, who peeled off into a waiting car as her brother walked behind her waving.

Kim's de-facto chief of staff Kim Chang Son -- dubbed his "Butler" -- who had been in Hanoi for pre-summit preparations, was also seen at the station as Kim made his Vietnam bow.

Kim Jong Un arrives in Vietnam after a marathon train journey from North Korea
Kim Jong Un arrives in Vietnam after a marathon train journey from North Korea
Nhac NGUYEN, AFP

This is Kim's first visit to the country and the first time a North Korean leader has been there since his grandfather Kim Il Sung -- a close ally of Vietnam's revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh -- travelled to the country in 1964.

Observers say he took the train to send a message to North Koreans -- and the world -- that he is falling in step with his grandfather, whom he frequently echoes in looks, mannerisms and even his handwriting.

"It sends a strong message to North Koreans that Kim Jong Un has inherited his grandfather's good qualities, and the Kim dynasty is stronger than ever," said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University.

Kim will be hosted for an official state visit and is expected to visit two provinces to examine examples of Vietnam's post-war economic success -- a glittering turnaround Washington hopes Pyongyang can emulate.

One of those provinces is Quang Ninh, where Vinfast, Vietnam's first homegrown car manufacturer is located. The other is Bac Ninh, home to a Samsung factory, one of Vietnam's leading investors and top exporters.

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