Last Updated May 6, 2016 11:43 AM EDT
PYONGYANG Western journalists were invited to cover the 7th Worker's Party Congress Friday, meant to solidify ruler Kim Jong Un's place atop North Korea's communist party. Our government minder told us to dress up for opening day of the multi-day event, but then our access was denied.
When we asked why we were not allowed to go into the meeting site, our government guide, Cha Yong Mi answered, laughing, "Don't ask me."
We were relegated to watching a summary of the day's events along with the rest of the country on North Korea's 10 p.m. news. As the meeting began this morning, our government guides shuttled us (and roughly 100 other foreign journalists) to the building where the Congress was underway. But we were kept across the street.
The last Congress was held in 1980, a coming out party of sorts for Kim Jong Il, father of the current leader. During his rule, the elder Kim focused on the military, diminishing the role of the party.
But by holding this Congress, his son is now embracing the party. He may need it to help implement his dual policy goals of nuclear weapons development and economic growth.
More than 3,000 members of North Korea's ruling party gathered for the event. Kim Jong Un began the ceremony by listing the names of deceased North Korean war heroes, scientists, and visionaries. He asked the jam-packed hall of party members to honor the fallen with a moment of silence.
According to the local news report, Kim said the Congress is taking place at a critical time, when anti-socialist countries are creating obstacles for the North. By rallying around the party, the country has overcome those challenges, Kim said. He added that by relying on the "single-hearted unity" of the army and of the people, North Korea has safeguarded its social system. Kim also praised North Korea's hydrogen bomb test, which took place on January 6, and credited the country's success to the party.
The assembly served to establish the monolithic leadership of Kim at the top of the North Korea's only political party.
Although we were kept out of the big event, we did have liberal access to people on the street, like school administrator Kim In Suk.
"The Congress demonstrates our single-hearted unity," she told us. "We were rallied around the respected marshal Kim Jong Un."
Under Kim's leadership, she said, a nuclear North Korea can now defend itself against its enemies, like the U.S.
"We don't have anything against Americans but we don't like American policy makers," said Kim.
When asked what she thought about President Obama, she said she'd shoot at him if given a weapon.
Those sentiments are ingrained at an early age and everyone we spoke to felt North Korea was simply misunderstood. But it is hard to get a true sense of the isolated country, since we can't travel here freely and beyond the capital city of Pyongyang.