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2009/04/09 22:19 KST
(2nd LD) N. Korea to revise constitution, leader present at parliament meeting: report

   By Kim Hyun
SEOUL, April 9 (Yonhap) -- North Korea decided to revise its constitution in a crucial parliamentary meeting on Thursday, the state media said, with leader Kim Jong-il making his first major appearance since his reported stroke last summer.

   Footage aired by the Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station showed a leaner, expressionless Kim in his trademark khaki military suit as he took about 10 steps to come to his seat in an assembly hall. He was slightly limping on his left foot, and when he raised both hands to applaud the audience that gave him a standing ovation, his left hand barely moved, possibly indicating the aftereffects of illness.

   The state media said lawmakers approved a motion for a constitutional amendment -- the first in 11 years -- but gave no further details. An amendment in 1992 helped transfer military command to Kim from his father and then President Kim Il-sung.

   Lawmakers "adopted the ordinance of the SPA 'On revising and supplementing the Socialist Constitution of the DPRK (North Korea)' with a unanimous approval," the Korean Central News Agency said.

   The rubber-stamp Supreme People's Assembly, newly elected last month, also reappointed Kim as chairman of the National Defence Commission, the highest military decision-making body, and approved the government's budget for 2009.

   Kim's reappointment -- his fourth election to the post since 1993, a year before his father's death -- was with "all the servicepersons and people's expression of unquestioned support and trust in him," the KCNA said.

   The National Defence Commission oversees the country's 1.19 million-strong military and makes appointments to senior military posts.

   Kim also promoted his brother-in-law, Jang Song-thaek, as a member of the National Defence Commission.

   The North Korean government will spend 15.8 percent of its budget for national defense, the same as last year, the report said, without giving the actual amount.

   The parliament convened as the international community strives for ways to respond to the country's rocket launch.

   Countries including South Korea and the United States are seeking to punish North Korea for the launch this past weekend that they believe was actually a test of a long-range missile. Both Russia and China, the North's closest ally, oppose sanctions.

   North Korea's state media continued to claim that Sunday's launch successfully put a satellite into orbit, but intelligence officials say one of the three boosters fell into the East Sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, while the two others and the payload fizzled into the Pacific Ocean.

   For North Korea watchers, the biggest question was how broadly Kim will reshuffle the National Defense Commission and whether he would revise the constitution.

   "Kim must have realized when he fell ill that the official absence of a successor could expose a weak point in his regime that could be exploited by outside forces. That could lead Kim to try to strengthen internal unity and settle the succession issue early," said Hong Ihk-hyun, an analyst with the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy in Seoul.

   Cheong Seong-chang, who is with the non-governmental Sejong Institute in Seoul, said the leader has publicly acknowledged his waning health by appearing on television. State media on Tuesday aired short footage of Kim making field trips, the first video images of him released since he reportedly fell ill.

   "He may have decided he could no more hide that he is not comfortable walking," Cheong said. "He may have decided, 'Let's admit it.'"

   The parliamentary elections were postponed last year, apparently due to his illness.

   Pyongyang's media reports have tied the rocket launch and Kim's reappointment to the country's economic campaign to build a "great, prosperous and powerful socialist nation" by 2012, the centennial anniversary of Kim Il-sung's birth.

   Compared to recent years, Kim has nearly tripled his number of field inspections in the past three months, revving up the economic drive. Among his 44 trips so far, there were 20 to industrial facilities, while 13 were military visits, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry.