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2008/12/25 13:31 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 35 (December 25, 2008)

   *** NEWS IN BRIEF (Part 1)

N. Korea Boasts This Year's Economic Achievements

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's state media reported on Dec. 19 that the country completed "a number of" major construction programs and produced significant research in the fields of science and technology this year, as it marked the country's 60th founding anniversary.

   "Construction projects went in full scale in the field of basic industries and the vanguard sectors of the national economy, which constitute the lifeline of the socialist economic construction," the North's Korean Central Broadcasting Station (KCBS) said, without giving concrete numbers.

   The broadcaster cited the completion of a hydroelectric power station on the Yesong River, which flows into the Yellow Sea, and three minor power plants.

   The North's achievements also included the modernization of electric furnaces at the Chollian Steel Complex, the nation's leading steel factory, and the expansion of an ore transportation system at the Komdok Mining Complex in Danchon, South Hamgyong Province, according to the report.

   Two famous restaurants, Okryugwan and Chongryugwan, along with a movie theater and Pyongyang's main zoo were reconstructed to better serve the people, it said.

   The completeion of new villages, rural houses, summer retreats and spring resorts will also improve the people's quality of life, the report said.

   On the same day, Radio Pyongyang reported that researchers had developed new methods of increasing the efficiency of steel mills, power plants, coal mines and other industrial facilities.

   New breeds of rice, potatoes and soybeans were also developed to increase agricultural production, it added.


North Korea Says Its Athletes Have Achieved Much This Year

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean athletes made many "laudable achievements" this year, winning gold medals and breaking records at various international and local events, the country's official news wire reported on Dec. 20.

   "Korean boys and girls achieved brilliant successes in international tournaments," the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

   Their successes are the fruits of the athletes' firm will to demonstrate "the dignity and stamina of Songun Korea to the whole world," it added.

   Songun, or "military-first," has been North Korea's dominant political philosophy since 1994, when Kim Jong-il took power after the death of his father and the nation's founder, Kim Il-sung.

   North Korea emerged victorious at the first FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup held in New Zealand in November, beating the United States, the KCNA said.

   In June, the North Korean women's football team won the title at the 2008 Asian Women's Football Championship held in Vietnam following their wins in 2001 and 2003, according to the report.

   Pak Hyon-suk and Hong Un-jong bagged gold medals in the 63kg category of the weightlifting competition and in the vaulting horse contest of women's gymnastics, respectively, at the Beijing Olympic Games, the KCNA said.

   "Korean athletes were honored with gold medals at the 8th World Youth and Children Taekwondo Championships, the 5th World Women's Boxing Championships, the 4th Asian Taekwondo Championships, the 1st International Boxing Federation of President Cup Contest, the 11th Asian Marathon Championships and other international tournaments," the report said.

   As for the North's domestic sports competitions, national records were broken in weightlifting, swimming and field and track at the Sports Contest for the Mangyongdae Cup and in marksmanship, archery, field and track, swimming and weightlifting at the 11th People's Sports Contest, the report said.


N. Korea Reports Inspections by Kim Jong-il for Sixth Straight Day

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has inspected a ceramic factory, Pyongyang's news agency said on Dec. 21, the sixth consecutive day it has reported public tours by Kim amid rumors of his ill health.

   In an apparent move to silence rumors about Kim's health, the socialist nation has released a string of pictures showing the leader inspecting various facilities. The awkward positioning of Kim's left hand in the images, however, has renewed suspicion that Kim may be suffering from the aftereffects of the stroke he reportedly suffered in August.

   The recent report by the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) is also being viewed as an attempt to show that Kim is very much alive and in control of his state.

   "After viewing various kinds of pottery produced by the factory, he expressed great satisfaction over the fact that the factory has sharply increased the production of pottery and markedly improved its quality in the span of one year," the KCNA report said without revealing the timing of the trip.

   "Glorify this year of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the DPRK as a historical turn which will go down in the annals of the country," the North Korean leader was quoted as saying during the inspection, referring to his country by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

   The report by the KCNA marks the sixth time from Dec. 16 that the tightly controlled media covered Kim's public activities in the remote northern province.

   The KCNA covered reports on Kim Jong-il's public activities at the February General Steel Enterprise in Jagang Province on Dec. 17, the Army Unit 955 on Dec. 19, the musical performance arranged by laborers in Jagang Province on Dec. 20.

   On Dec. 16, the agency said Kim had visited an electronics research center, a library and a pharmaceutical plant.


N. Korea Reports Steep Increases in Iron Ore, Steel Output

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's iron ore production increased 29 percent this year from last year, while its steel output soared 73 percent in the same period, the North's Korean Central Broadcasting Station reported on Dec. 21.

   Citing a ranking official of the North's Ministry of Metal Industry, the radio station said maximum facility utilization of the communist country's largest iron mine in Musan and exploitation of new promising iron mines in Eunryul and Jaeryong have contributed to the steep growth in its iron ore output.

   The official was also quoted by the radio as saying that massive facility renovations and introduction of new manufacturing methods at the North's main steel mills resulted in the remarkable growth in steel output.

   The radio, monitored here, noted that one of the new steel manufacturing methods included producing the same amount of steel products with lesser amounts of iron ore resources through technological advancement.


N. Korea Says S. Korea Will Turn to 'Pile of Ashes' in Case It Tries War

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A top North Korean army official says South Korea is preparing for war against the North but any such moves will see the North's military turn the South into a "pile of ashes," according to Pyongyang's news agency.

   Kim Il-chol, minister of the North Korean People's Armed Forces, delivered the stark warning in an anniversary speech for North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on Dec. 23, amid an intensifying daily offensive from Pyongyang that blames Seoul for souring inter-Korean relations.

   The South "is holding military exercises day after day aimed to launch a preemptive strike and is driving the South-North relations into a phase of war," Kim Il-chol said on the 17th anniversary of the Kim Jong-il's nomination as the armed forces' supreme commander.

   "The South Korean warmongers should keep in their minds that our preemptive strike, built upon stronger means than nuclear weapons, will not only make the South a sea of fire but turn all things that are against the Korean people and unification into a pile of ashes," the army minister said in a statement carried by the North's Korean Central News Agency.

   North Korean military officials issued the same warning of a preemptive strike in October and March.

   Pyongyang has recently intensified anti-Seoul criticism. On Dec. 23, it called South Korea's unification minister, Kim Ha-joong, a "lunatic" who has ruined inter-Korean relations with confrontational policies.

   Kim, Seoul's chief policymaker on inter-Korean affairs, is now in Beijing meeting with senior Chinese officials to discuss North Korean issues.

   Pyongyang also blasted Seoul's repeated offers of dialogue as "hypocritical."


N. Korea Says Leader's Public Appearances Made 'Without Rest'

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean media claimed that Kim Jong-il made year-round inspections "without rest," not mentioning the months-long interval during which Kim went unseen amid rumors of his ill health.

   Kim made a total of 91 public appearances this year as of on Dec. 24, slightly up from the 86 appearances he made in 2007 but continuing a downward trend in the reclusive leader's public activities in recent years, according to monitored reports from Pyongyang.

   Seoul and Washington officials say Kim suffered a stroke in mid-August and is now recovering. Kim "is alive, and he remains in control of the North Korean government," Adm. Timothy Keating of the U.S. Pacific Command said last week.

   "Since he guided on the spot the workers in their work for constructing the Ryesong River Power Station on a cold and windy day in the beginning of the year, he has covered without rest the road of field guidance," the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on Dec. 23.

   "He has continued on-the-spot guidance without interruption defying the intense cold of the midwinter and the blazing sunlight and rainy days of midsummer," it said.

   Since reports of a military inspection by Kim released in mid-August, North Korean media had been silent about his whereabouts until Oct. 11, when they announced a visit to a female soldiers' unit and released photos. But the images appeared outdated as background foliage suggested they were taken in summer.

   In following photos, the 66-year-old leader's left hand appeared in an unnatural position either resting on his lap or inside his pocket. In the latest batch of images released the past week, Kim was seen wearing a pair of gloves, a fur hat and a silver parka as he appeared to be inspecting industrial factories in the remote northern province of Jagang.

   The number of Kim's inspections peaked with 123 visits in 2005, after which he has appeared less frequently in public. In 2006, his public activity was reported 99 times, followed by 86 in 2007. This year, six of the 91 visits were reported last week.

   It was not certain whether Kim made the six visits separately or whether the media outlets were stretching out a shorter visit as the leader is wearing the same outfit in all the latest photos. The North Korean media has not specified dates for those visits.

   Kim's health has been a subject of keen attention as he has not publicly nominated a successor. He took power after his father and North Korea's founder Kim Il-sung died in 1994 and is believed to have diabetes and heart problems.