(LEAD) Apartment under construction collapses in Pyongyang
SEOUL, May 18 (Yonhap) -- An apartment building under construction in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang has collapsed, causing an unspecified number of casualties, the state media reported Sunday.
The North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the accident occurred in the Pyongchon District on May 13 as "the construction of an apartment house was not done properly, and officials supervised and controlled it in an irresponsible manner."
The KCNA reported that a "state emergency mechanism" was formed to rescue survivors and treat the wounded, and senior officials met with bereaved families and citizens in the district to express "deep consolation and (issue an) apology."
A North Korean official is bowing in apology to citizens over an apartment building collapse at a construction site in Pyongyang, the state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun reports on May 18, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Rodong Sinmun) (Yonhap)
Among the ranking officials were Minister of People's Security Choe Pu-il, General Officer of the Korean People's Internal Security Forces Sonu Hyong-chol and Chairman of the Pyongyang City People's Committee Cha Hui-rim.
Leader "Kim Jong-un sat up all night, feeling painful after being told about the accident, instructed leading officials of the party, state and the army to rush to the scene, putting aside all other affairs, and command the rescue operation to recover from the damage as early as possible," the KCNA said in its English-version report, quoting a senior official.
The North's state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun also ran a photo in which an official is seen bowing in a public apology to a group of people.
It is rare for the state media to reveal facts about an accident that took place inside the reclusive country and for high-ranking officials to issue an official apology.
Although the media did not elaborate on the number of casualties, Seoul officials suspect a considerable number of people may have been killed in the collapse of the 23-story building.
"In North Korea, it is common that people move into a new apartment even before the construction is completed. About 92 households may have been living in the apartment," a South Korean government official said, asking for anonymity.
Experts say the North's prompt public apology may be part of the communist regime's efforts to contain potential unrest by power elites and highlight the Swiss-educated young leader's focus on people's livelihoods.
Although most North Koreans struggle to make ends meet, the selected communist elite in the reclusive country live in high-rise apartments and dine in Western-style restaurants in the well-maintained capital.
"North Korea's media coverage of the apartment collapse may be intended at promoting Kim Jong-un's image as a sincere leader who takes good care of people's livelihoods," said Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Dongguk University.
The quick apology may also be aimed at showing constrast between South and North Korea with regards to promptness in state-level response to such accidents. North Korean media in recent weeks have criticized President Park Geun-hye for her government's poor response to the April 16 sinking of the ferry Sewol, one of the worst maritime disasters in recent history.
"North Korea's prompt report on the incident may be aimed at contrasting it to the South's Sewol incident," Kim said.