PYONGYANG - Thousands of North Korean devotees laid flowers before statues of the country's founder Kim Il Sung Sunday on the anniversary of his birth. A constant stream of soldiers in brown uniforms, work unit personnel in suits, schoolchildren and families made their way to Mansu hill in the centre of Pyongyang, where giant statues of Kim and his son and successor look out over the capital.

"The great comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il will always be with us," read a banner made of greenery. In turn each group -- including the occasional set of tourists -- approached the bronze edifices, most people with single blooms, some carrying golden baskets of flowers, making their offerings before assembling in formation. "Let us bow before the statues," intoned an announcer half-hidden by horticulture, prompting deep bows from civilians and salutes from military detachments.

In front of the images stood a giant floral arrangement on a golden stand from Kim Jong Un, Kim Il Sung's grandson and the third of the dynasty to head the isolated and impoverished but nuclear-armed country. North Koreans are taught from an early age to revere their leaders, and portraits of the two late rulers gaze down in every home, school and workplace in the country.

The calendar is packed with anniversaries relating to them and their careers, and the accompanying rituals both demonstrate and reinforce loyalty to the regime. April 15, known as the Day of the Sun, is unquestionably the most important anniversary and is sometimes marked with a military parade, as it was last year.