North Korean leader Kim Jong Un thanked the public for their trust and support "in the difficult times" and wished them happiness and good health in his first New Year's Day cards sent to his people.
Kim usually gives a televised speech on January 1, but he is widely expected to skip the speech this year since he will address the country's first ruling party congress in five years sometime in early January.
"I will work hard to bring earlier the new era in which the ideals and desires of our people will come true," Kim said in his letter, according to the Korean Central News Agency.
"I offer thanks to the people for having invariably trusted and supported our party even in the difficult times," he said. "I sincerely wish all the families across the country greater happiness and beloved people, good health."
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North Korea is one of the world's most cloistered countries, and it's virtually impossible to independently confirm whether its 25 million people received Kim's cards. The cards reportedly were the first a leader sent to North Koreans since 1995.
Kim, who succeeded his father as North Korean leader in 2011, is facing the toughest challenges of his nine-year rule due to the pandemic, several natural disasters last summer and the stalemate over US-led sanctions and his nuclear weapons programme.
Kim will likely use the Workers' Party congress as a venue to muster a stronger unity and lay out new development goals for the next few years, experts say.
The congress, the first in kind since 2006, is officially the party's top decision-making body, though day-to-day decisions are made by Kim and his close associates. The rubberstamp body of delegates to the congress is expected to endorse Kim's new initiatives without major debates.
State media said North Korea planned to hold the congress early this month but didn't specify the dates. In 2006, the congress was held for four days.
Marking the new year's start, a large crowd of people packed Pyongyang's main square to watch fireworks, a concert and a flag-hoisting ceremony. State TV showed the people, wearing masks and heavy coats, waving while standing close together.
North Korea has steadfastly claimed to be coronavirus-free — an assertion doubted by outsiders. But experts also say any outbreak likely wasn't widespread and so North Korea considered it safe to hold big events like the party congress in Pyongyang.