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North Korea is holding its most important political gathering in a generation, where leader Kim Jong-un will cement his status.
Thousands of delegates are meeting for a choreographed show of support being seen as an unofficial coronation.
Mr Kim is expected to reassert his nuclear ambitions, with speculation he will soon conduct a fifth nuclear test.
The BBC's Stephen Evans in Pyongyang says Kim Jong-un is inside the hall, with guards lined up outside the venue.
The capital was spruced up ahead of the event and citizens lay flowers in central squares as it got under way.
The streets are lined with National and Workers' Party flags with banners that read "Great comrades Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il will always be with us" and "Defend the headquarters of the Korean revolution at the cost of the our lives".
It is the seventh meeting of North Korea's Worker's Party and the first since 1980, and is being held inside the April 25 House of Culture, now covered in vast red and gold banners and massive images of the current leader's father and grandfather.
The event itself remains shrouded in secrecy. About 100 foreign journalists have been invited to cover it but they have not been allowed inside the venue, and our correspondent says every foreign journalist is being watched carefully at all times.
No congress was held during the rule of Kim Jong-il - Kim Jong-un's father. His death in 2011 brought Kim Jong-un to power when he was still in his twenties.
North Korea's economy in the spotlight - John Sudworth, BBC News, Pyongyang
Foreign observers are talking about a "mini boom," the emergence of markets and small shops that are now on every corner of this city.
Commerce was once banned entirely, or at least forced to operate covertly, under a rigid socialist system that officially abhorred all forms of buying and selling.
Today, the North Korean state still provides rations - one of the government minders, deployed to watch and control the invited foreign media, tells me the allowance is currently 650 grams of maize, rice and meat a day, a higher quantity than some recent foreign newspaper reports suggest.
But whatever the true amount, people can now be seen in shops topping up their daily needs, in droves.
The agenda and duration of the event is not known but experts say Kim Jong-un is likely to declare his so-called "byongjin" policy, which is the simultaneous push towards economic development and nuclear capability.
It could also see a new generation of leaders put in place.
The meeting will elect a new central committee, which appoints a Politburo - the central decision-making body of the Communist party - and many say loyalists to the current leader will be rewarded with high profile posts.
Who he chooses will be watched carefully. In 2013 Kim Jong-un had his uncleexecuted for "acts of treachery" and there have followed many reports of purges of high profile figures in the establishment.
Some experts have said that Mr Kim's sister Kim Yo-jong, with whom he attended school in Switzerland, is tipped for promotion.
Many observers will scrutinise announcements carefully to evaluate the North's commitment to a planned economy and hints at reform, but the congress is also being seen as the public stage for Kim Jong-un to define his leadership for the years to come.