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2009/01/08 10:45 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 36 (January 8, 2008)

   *** NEWS IN BRIEF (Part 1)

Kim Jong-il's Written Discourse Tops N. Korea News Stories of 2008

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A pro-Pyongyang newspaper in Japan released its pick for the top news stories of 2008 on Dec. 24, with events marking the country's 60th anniversary and a commemorative written discourse from leader Kim Jong-il at the top of the list.

   Choson Sinbo, the organ of Chongryon, or the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, said North Korea's capital Pyongyang was filled with a festive mood on Sept. 9 when the country marked its 60th birthday, while Kim's discourse provided citizens with a renewed sense of power and courage.

   The lengthy treatise, which Kim apparently intended to release on the day of the founding anniversary, was instead published by the North's two major newspapers, the Rodong Sinmun and Minju Joson, on Oct. 10, the anniversary of the country's ruling Workers' Party. No reason for the delay was given.

   Titled "The Democratic People's Republic of Korea Is a Self-Reliant Socialist State with Invincible Might," the discourse, dated on Sept. 5, vowed to maintain the nation's military-oriented policies and to put priority on economic reconstruction and reinforcement of the nation's defense capabilities.

   State TV and radio broadcasts aired repeated coverage of the discourse for almost two weeks as part of efforts to assist North Koreans in absorbing their leader's words and carrying out his message.

   Kim's abscence at a major parade held on Sept. 9 to mark the country's anniversary fanned speculation about his reported health problems. Officials in the U.S. and Seoul say Kim is now recovering from a stroke he suffered in the middle of August.

   Choson Sinbo singled out the New York Philharmonic's historic first-ever performance in Pyongyang last February and renovation of the North Korean capital through various reconstruction projects as the second and third biggest stories of 2008. "The music performance received much attention as an event reflecting new political trends," the daily said.

   The report also noted that Pyongyang's appearance changed significantly this past year and that works to reconstruct or modernize buildings and public facilities will continue into 2009 or later.

   Fourth on the list was the "successful" staging of the Beijing Olympics torch run through a section of Pyongyang last summer. "China expressed thanks, calling it one of the most successful torch runs," the newspaper said, adding the torch relay, the longest in Olympic history, became a target of massive anti-China protests at many stops across the world.

   Washington's removal of North Korea from a list of states sponsoring terrorism came in at ninth place and was described as "the first step toward building confidence between the DPRK and the U.S."
At the bottom of the list was the North's tightening of its border with South Korea on Dec. 1. "North-South relations arrived at an important crossroads, fully cutting off relations because of the anti-DPRK confrontational policy of South Korea's Lee Myung-bak administration," the daily said.

  
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N. Korea Holds Latest Lottery for Government Bond Repayment

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The latest drawings for pay outs of North Korea's government bonds have taken place in Pyongyang, the country's state-run television broadcaster said on Dec. 26.

   The (North) Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station (KCBS TV), monitored in Seoul, reported that the latest winners of the "people's life bonds" were announced in the end of December.

   From July-November 2003, the North Korean government sold 10-year bonds worth 500 (US$3.50), 1000, and 5000 North Korean won, saying it would repay lottery winners by multiplying the original payment rather than paying interest.

   It was the first bond that North Korea has issued.

   According to reports then, the cash-short socialist regime aggressively marketed the bonds, praising buyers as "patriots" helping to funnel private money into the buildup of the national economy.

   First-place winners get 50 times the face value of the bond, with second-place winners receiving 25 times, third with 10 times, fourth with five times, six with triple and seventh with double.

   Drawings were reported to be held once or twice a year.

   The sixth round of drawings took place in January 2008, with thirteen 5000-won bond holders declared winners, as well as eight 1000-won bond holders and 10 holders of 500-won bonds.

   For this event, seven winners were drawn for each denomination, the TV report said.

  
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North Korean Leader Keeps Busy at Year's End

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il inspected two army units and attended a concert by the nation's state symphony orchestra in the waning day of 2008, according to state-run media, finishing out the year with a flurry of reported public appearances.

   The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in separate articles on Dec. 27 that Kim, accompanied by ranking military officials, visited Army Unit 323 and Air Force Unit 1017.

   As is characteristic of reports on the reclusive leader, neither the exact location or date of the visits was disclosed. The reports did say, however, that the former visit was made around Dec. 27 when the country marked its Constitutional Day.

   The KCNA also released a dozen photographs from the inspections in which Kim is seen wearing a light-gray parka and his usual dark sunglasses, along with a fur hat and thick gloves. In the photographs, Kim is walking and standing together with army servicemen and the ground is covered in snow.

   Kim inspected the army unit's gym as well as its cultural, educational and other facilities and observed a training session, the KCNA said.

   The leader praised both the army and air force units for their war-readiness and "set forth tasks" to be fulfilled to increase their "combat capability," according to the KCNA.

   The news wire said on the following day that Kim had attended a performance by State Symphony Orchestra in what was his last public activity of 2008.

   "When he appeared in the auditorium, the whole audience broke into rousing cheers of 'hurrah!' and enthusiastically welcomed him," the KCNA said. No date was given.

   Kim highly praised "the creators and artists of the orchestra for having devoted themselves to thoroughly implementing the WPK's policy on developing the orchestras their own way to cater to the taste and feelings of the Korean people," it said. The WPK refers to the North's only political party, the Workers' Party of Korea.

   North Korea reported more inspection tours by Kim in 2008 than it did a year ago. Experts believe the reports are part of a concerted effort to portray Kim as healthy and in-control despite speculation that he suffered a stroke in mid-August. Seoul and Washington officials say the 66-year-old official is now recovering.

   According to Seoul's Unification Ministry, Kim made a total of 97 public appearances in 2008, up from 87 in 2007. Counts differ slightly depending on whether visits to different facilities in a single report are also included.

   The increased count was somewhat unexpected as Kim was absent from the media for more than 50 days in late summer and early fall last year. After a report of a military inspection released on Aug. 14, North Korean outlets made no mention of the leader until Oct. 4 when they announced an undated visit to a soccer game.

   His absence from a military parade on Sept. 9 marking the 60th anniversary of the North Korean regime fanned speculations that he had fallen ill.

  
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Kim Jong-il Brings in the New Year Alongside Soldiers

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il inspected a tank division in his first publicly reported activity of 2009, an unusual move highlighting his commitment to advancing the nation's "military-first" policy.

   Kim has usually brought in the New Year with visits to industrial sites or to the Kumsusan Memorial House where his father's embalmed body lies in state.

   "This is the first time Kim has visited a military unit as his New Year activity since 1995," said Seoul Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun.

   The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the reclusive leader inspected Guard Seoul Ryu Kyong Su Tank Division 105 on Jan. 2, where his late father and North Korean founder Kim Il-sung visited in 1960.

   Typical of reports on the reclusive leader, no date was disclosed.

   North Korea considers the tank division as the birthplace of Kim's military-first politics, or Songun in Korean, which places the military's combat ability and welfare above all other issues.
Kim also visited an army unit before making his way to an industrial facility, according to North Korean news media.

   The KCNA also reported on Jan. 5 that Kim inspected Artillery Command Unit 1489 and watched soldiers conduct firing training.

   The army "has grown to be the powerful revolutionary armed forces equipped with all types of modern offensive and defensive means," Kim was quoted by KCNA as telling the unit.

   Kim later visited the Wonsan Youth Power Station, a newly-built hydroelectric power plant in coastal city of Wonsan, the KCNA said the following day. He reportedly called for greater energy production during the undated visit.

   In a New Year's joint editorial setting state goals for 2009, official North Korean newspapers renewed the nation's call to prioritize the military. The commentary also affirmed Pyongyang's commitment to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and vowed that the country's frail industrial infrastructure would be rebuilt.

  
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N. Korea Promotes Industry Veterans in Cabinet Reshuffle

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has promoted industrial veterans to top posts in its latest Cabinet reshuffle, signaling Pyongyang's stepped-up drive to rebuild the country's frail economy.

   A reshuffle in the socialist state is usually inferred when new faces appear in its media, as the country does not publicize such moves.

   Five new names were mentioned as the North's ministers of railways, forestry, electricity, agriculture and metal industry in the North's New Year's joint editorial that sets state goals for the year.

   The news reports are monitored by Yonhap News Agency, and Seoul's Unification Ministry also confirmed the changes.

   "They are formerly vice ministers or those who climbed the ladder in each field. The reshuffle considered their on-site experience and expertise," ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun told reporters. It was not clear when the reshuffle that reportedly affected more posts took place, he said.

   North Korean media have been reporting a brisk campaign to rebuild the country's ailing industrial infrastructure, following up on the New Year economic blueprint rolled out by leader Kim Jong-il. Kim called on citizens "to solve problems by our own efforts" and increase production in electricity, coal and daily equipment.

   In the reshuffle, Ho Taek was named minister of the power industry; Kim Chang-sik minister of agriculture; Kim Thae-bong minister of the metal industry; Jon Kil-su minister of railways and Kim Kwang-yong minister of forestry.

   Kim Kwang-yong and Kim Chang-sik were vice ministers and Jon held a senior post in their respective ministries. Ho was formerly a power plant chief, while little was known about Kim Thae-bong.

   Ho's appointment to the post was known when the North's Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station on Jan. 1 introduced him as the power industry minister in a report covering reactions by ministry officials and power plant workers to the New Year's joint editorial. Ho's predecessor was Pak Nam-chil.

   Kim Chang-sik's promotion was made known on the same day in a similar article carried by the Rodong Sinmun, the organ of the North's ruling Workers' Party. He was an agricultural minister for more than two years between 2001 and 2003 and had served as a deputy minister since 2006.

   Kim Thae-bong appeared for the first time in North Korean news media as minister of metal industry on Dec. 28 when KCBS and Radio Pyongyang reported that he attended a loyalty rally by employees of the Chollima Steel Complex in South Pyongan Province, where Kim Jong-il visited a few days earlier. The post had been filled by Kim Sung-hyon since 2005.

   Personnel changes affecting railway and forestry ministers were made known last October.

   The North's official Central News Agency (KCNA) on Oct. 4 introduced Jon, who attended a railroad renovation ceremony at a North Korean city bordering Russia, as the railways minister.

   The promotion of the former deputy forestry minister, Kim Kwang-yong, was known when his reaction to a statement from North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was reported by KCBS radio.

  
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N. Korea Has Concrete Plans for Rebuilding Its Economy: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has established concrete plans in each industrial sector to reconstruct its moribund economy by 2012 to mark the centennial of the birth of its late leader, Kim Il-sung, a pro-Pyongyang daily in Japan reported on Jan. 5.

   In a New Year's joint editorial issued on Jan. 1, the North reaffirmed its goal of "opening the gate to a thriving nation" that year.

   "The construction of an economic power is not merely a slogan," said the Choson Sinbo, the newspaper of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan. The North is pushing for concrete plans to attain the goal based on existing achievements, said the daily that usually represents Pyongyang's position.

   Each industrial sector has set its own five-year goal ending in 2012 with specific figures, it stressed.

   "For example, the light industrial sector aims to focus on the development of textile manufacturing, modernize facilities at five major textile factories in such cities as Pyongyang and Sariwon and quadruple production by 2012," the daily said. "The coal mine industry eyes to increase production over the next few years up to the level of the peak years of the 1980s."

   The newspaper claimed North Korea's steel production was up 1.5 fold in 2008 from a year earlier, attributing the rise to technological renovation and modernization of facilities at major steel factories, including Chollima Steel Complex in Nampho on the North's west coast.

   North Korea constructed or renovated about 140 major industrial facilities last year, according to the report.

   Renovation has especially been brisk in the metal, machine, chemical and light industries, it added.

  
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N.K. Unveils 2008 List of Top 10 Athletes, Includes Eight Females

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has released a 2008 list of its top 10 athletes, with two Beijing gold medalists sharing the highest honors. All but two were female.

   North Korea released a similar list at the end of 2007. The 2008 version, released by the (North) Korean Central News Agency and monitored on Jan. 6 in Seoul, included six who scored a medal at the Beijing Olympics in August.

   Twenty-year-old gymnast Hong Un-jong took the highest spot, while 24-year-old weightlifter Pak Hyon-suk came in second, according to the list. Hong claimed the women's vault at the Summer Games while Pak captured the women's 63-kilogram event. They were the only ones to win gold for their country that finished 33rd overall.

   Kim Hyang-ok, who won the 50kg tournament at the women's world boxing championship in November, came in third, while Ahn Gum-ae, the Beijing silver medalist in the women's 52kg judo event, finished fourth.

   Ri Kum-suk, who accounted for half the goals North Korea scored to win a berth in the women's football tournament at the Olympics, came in fifth.

   Gymnast Ri Se-gwang and judoist Pak Chol-min were the only men listed. Ri came in sixth on the list, while Pak took last place.

   North Korea sent its biggest-ever Olympic delegation to the Beijing Games. Set back by a doping scandal involving one of its male shooters, the country claimed two golds, one silver and three bronzes.

  
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N. Korea to Hold Parliamentary Election in March

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea will hold parliamentary elections in March, Pyongyang's news agency said on Jan. 7, a move expected to prompt a further shakeup in the Cabinet and the military.

   The Presidium of Supreme People's Assembly announced its decision on the previous day to "hold the 12th representatives' election on March 8 in 2009," the North's official Korean Central News Agency said.

   North Korea was expected to hold the elections in 2008, when the assembly members' five-year term expired. But the election did not take place amid rumors of leader Kim Jong-il's ill health.

   When a new assembly is inaugurated, the representatives customarily reshuffle the Cabinet. They also reconfirm Kim Jong-il as chairman of the National Defense Commission, which oversees the North's 1.1-million-strong military. A military shakeup is also expected.

   Seoul's Unification Ministry spokesman confirmed the election, saying it will open up a new era for Kim Jong-il.

   "We have to see how the new parliament will be made up," ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun said.

  (END)