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2009/02/12 11:06 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 41 (February 12, 2009)

   *** NEWS IN BRIEF (Part 1)

North Korean Leader Kim Jong-il Visits Major Factories

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has recently visited vinalon, machine and fertilizer complexes consecutively, according to Pyongyang's media reports in what appears to be a sign of Pyongyang stepping up its self-sufficiency drive amid dwindling international aid.

   The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on Feb. 4 Kim gave field guidance to the "February 8 Vinalon Complex" and the Ryongsong Machine Complex in Hamhung, South Hamgyong Province, not specifying the dates for either visit as usual.

   Kim was quoted as saying, "The position and role of the complex are very important for the building of a great prosperous and powerful nation." The production of vinalon, a synthetic fiber used in many of North Korea's textiles, makes it "possible to bring about a signal turn in the chemical industry," Kim said.

   Kim told workers at the machine complex, "We are optimistic about the successful building of a great prosperous and powerful nation as we have such tremendous potential."

   He urged the workers to continue their efforts "with the same vim and vigor as they displayed to produce large-size machines with nothing after the war, thus startling the world."

   North Korea this year revived a post-war reconstruction campaign first launched five decades ago, striving to rebuild the nation's infrastructure and "solve food problems by our own efforts."

   The Chollima Movement, named after a mythical winged horse, was set up by the leader's father and North Korean founder Kim Il-sung in 1956 to mobilize citizens for the government-led reconstruction campaign after the Korean War. Its revival comes as North Korea struggles to cope with the ongoing global recession.

   Pyongyang has set 2012, the centenary of late Kim's birth, as the target year by which it aims to become an economic power.

   The KCNA said on Feb. 7 Kim has visited the Hungnam Fertilizer Complex, followed by another report the following day on his undated visit to the Rakwon Machine Complex, which supplies equipment for fertilizer production.

   "In order to solve the food scarcity, it is necessary to send a lot of fertilizers to the countryside," Kim was quoted as saying during his trip to Hungnam.

   North Korea increased its food production to 4.3 million metric tons in 2008, up 7 percent from the previous year thanks to improved weather conditions, according to South Korea's state-run Rural Development Administration. But the country still needs outside aid to feed a quarter of its 23 million population, according to U.N. agencies.

   In his latest visits, the North Korean leader stressed the need for a "creative" production process called "coal gasification."

   The process converts coal from a solid to a gaseous state that is similar to natural gas, and can be converted to ammonia and used to make fertilizer, experts say. The method is not widely used, but North Korea has rich deposits of coal and would otherwise have to import natural gas, they said.


N. Korea Begins Preparations for Leader's Birthday Celebrations

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has begun preparations for leader Kim Jong-il's 67th birthday celebrations, its state-run media said, a major event during which Pyongyang usually refrains from provocations and tries to boost internal unity.

   Kim's birthday, which falls on Feb. 16, is the most important holiday in the socialist state along with April 15, the birthday of his father and North Korea's founder, Kim Il-sung. Citizens receive free rice, fruit, daily necessities and liquor as gifts from the leader.

   This year's celebrations come amid reports that Kim Jong-il has recovered from a reported stroke and resumed public activities.

   In a sign that Kim's personality cult is intensifying ahead of his birthday, the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on Feb. 5 senior officials and dignitaries held a seminar on the "immortal feats" of Kim.

   "The DPRK (North Korea) has dashed forward like the wind towards the eminence of a great prosperous powerful socialist nation, winning victories in the fierce confrontation with the imperialist reactionaries," KCNA quoted the participants as saying.

   They praised Kim's "forced march for field guidance," referring to his increased public inspection tours this year. He made 13 such visits in January, compared to eight a year ago, likely intended to show the leader is healthy and focusing on the country's economic reconstruction campaign.

   Amid deep economic woes and waning outside aid, Pyongyang has set 2012 as the target year by which to build a "great, powerful and prosperous nation." The year marks the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-sung's birth.

   State media said on Feb. 4 that young students from around the nation have set off on a march to Kim Jong-il's official birthplace at Mt. Paektu.


N.K. Holds Rallies to Back Kim Jong-il's Parliamentary Nomination

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has been nominated for a parliamentary seat in all the constituencies across the country, its official media said on Feb. 8, as the country gears up for rubber-stamp elections precisely a month away.

   "Voters' meetings were held at all the constituencies across the country" beginning with the Feb. 1 meeting for nomination of Kim Jong-il in the 12th parliamentary elections, the North's official Korean Central News Agency said in a report monitored in Seoul.

   The first rally to appoint Kim to run in the 333th voting district was held on Feb. 1 and attended by top military leaders.

   Kim, who turns 67 next week, is almost certain to be re-elected in what is considered a military constituency.

   A newly formed legislature will then confirm his status as chairman of the National Defense Commission, an independent organization that controls the isolated state's 1.1-million-strong military.

   The elections, set for March 8, were bypassed last year amid rumors that Kim had suffered a stroke.


N. Korean Media Invokes 'Inheritance' Amid Talk of Power Succession

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's state newspaper repeatedly underlined the revolutionary tradition of leader Kim Jong-il's family in an apparent bid to justify another possible father-to-son power transfer in the world's most tightly controlled country.

   The commentary came amid news reports that Kim, apparently driven by his health concerns following a reported stroke last summer, has named his third and youngest son Jong-un as his successor. The current leader took over after his father died in 1994.

   Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the Workers' Party, said a song supposedly written by Kim's late grandfather Kim Hyong-jik in the early 1900s about his steadfast commitment to a fight against Japanese colonizers depicts the pure revolutionary spirit of the "Mangyongdae family."

   Korea was a colony of Japan from 1910 to 1945. Mangyongdae is the name of Kim Il-sung's hometown near Pyongyang.

   North Korea has often referred to the Kim's by that name as part of efforts to increase personality cult of the family members. It is unusual, however, for the North to use the term in an article aimed at rallying the public to participate in "revolutionary" activities.

   In a related move, the same newspaper on Feb. 10 expressed hope for the "inheritance" of the older generations' will to build a strong nation, which analysts said carries a double meaning about both the country's youth and a new leader.

   "The tradition of a great revolutionary surge has been successfully carried forward generation after generation in the DPRK as the Party and the revolution are led by Kim Jong-il," Rodong Sinmun said, using the acronym for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

   It said the ongoing economic drive in the North is the "successful inheritance of the tradition of a great upswing in the 1950s," referring to a post-war reconstruction drive initiated by Kim Il-sung following the Korean War.

   Analysts said the recurring theme of inheritance in North Korean media appears to be aimed at mobilizing younger generations while simultaneously disseminating the notion that Kim's power should be handed down to one of his sons.

   "It has a double meaning. First, it stresses the role of the third and fourth generations in building a strong nation by 2012. Then the notion of a hereditary succession sounds not so strange," said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korean studies professor at Dongguk University.


N. Korean Cabinet Discusses Ways to Carry Out Economic Goals

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea convened a special plenary session to assess how well last year's economic plans were implemented and discuss ways to fulfill this year's goals, its state media reported on Feb. 10.

   Cabinet Premier Kim Yong-il and other speakers at the meeting said there was "much achievement" last year in the nation's struggle to rebuild the tattered economy, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

   They stressed the most pressing task at the current stage is to ensure that all industries yield record-high production, the report said.

   The Cabinet also discussed how to fully meet this year's economic goals and shore up the economy to meet the demands of the new century, according to the KCNA.

   It was not dislosed when or where the meeting was held.

   North Korea vowed to "solve food problems by our own efforts" and rebuild the nation's decrepit infrastructure in its New Year's joint editorial, which was published by three major state newspapers. Weighed down by the tanking global economy, however, the North's economy appears headed for minus growth this year, analysts say.