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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 88 (January 7, 2010)
*** NEWS IN BRIEF

Pro-Pyongyang Paper Picks Top 9 North Korean News of 2009

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Looking back into major events that took place in North Korea in 2009, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper based in Japan recently announced the socialist country's top nine news of last year.

   In its Dec. 25 edition obtained by Yonhap News Agency on Dec. 31, Choson Sinbo picked as last year's top news the reappointment in April of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il as chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission.

   North Korea's rubber-stamp parliament, the Supreme People's Assembly, agreed on Kim's reappointment on April 9. The commission, the highest military decision-making body, oversees the country's 1.19 million-strong military and makes appointments to senior military posts.

   The No. 2 news of 2009 was the successful launch of an artificial satellite, "Kwangmyongsong-2," according to the newspaper published in Tokyo by the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents there.

   North Korea put the "satellite" into orbit on April 5, which the U.S. and its allies viewed as a rocket that could be converted into a long-range missile capable of hitting America.

   The newspaper selected as the No. 3 news North Korea's second nuclear test on May 25, followed by the "150-day battle" and "the 100-day campaign," which urged North Koreans to work harder and put in longer hours to resolve food shortages and rebuild the country's antiquated infrastructure.

   Other events that made the top nine list were North Korea's qualification for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa; the April 15 fireworks show to mark the birth anniversary of the late founder Kim Il-sung; Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's October visit to Pyongyang; improved U.S.-North Korean relations following visits to the North by former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Stephen Bosworth, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy; Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun's visit to Pyongyang in August and a North Korean delegation's August visit to Seoul to mourn the death of former president Kim Dae-jung.

  
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100,000 N. Koreans Rally in Pyongyang to Support New Year Projects

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- About 100,000 North Koreans held a rally in Pyongyang on Jan. 2 to show support for the government's New Year projects that called for stepped-up efforts to rebuild the nation's frail economy, the North's state media said.

   The joint editorial, a blueprint for North Korea's policy goals in the new year and released by the country's state media on Jan. 1, stressed the need to develop light industry and agriculture as the "major fronts in the efforts for improving the people's standard of living." North Korea also called for an end to hostile relations with the United States and reached out for better ties with South Korea.

   The (North) Korean Central Broadcasting Station and Pyongyang Radio both reported that some 100,000 citizens of Pyongyang rallied in Kim Il-sung Square, where they pledged to carry out the tasks laid out by the New Year editorial. North Korea customarily holds a series of mass rallies nationwide after unveiling New Year policies.
"The general orientation of this year's efforts," a senior Pyongyang city official named Choe Yong-rim said in a speech at the gathering, "is to launch a sweeping campaign to bring about a drastic turn in improving the people's standard in the flames of the great revolutionary upsurge."

   Choe noted that the year 2010 holds significant importance for the country's foremost campaign, which aims to build a thriving socialist nation by 2012, the birth centennial of Kim Il-sung, the country's founder and father of the current leader, Kim Jong-il.

   The mass rally was attended by Premier Kim Yong-il, Choe Thae-bok, secretary of the Workers' Party Central Committee, and Yang Hyong-sop, vice-president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly. The nation's leader, Kim Jong-il, was absent from the event, as is usual, with portraits of both himself and his father erected on central stages, according to the reports.

   According to the (North) Korean Central News Agency, mass rallies of South Pyongan and Jagang Provinces took place in Pyongsong and Kanggye cities on Jan. 3 to carry through the militant tasks set forth in the joint New Year editorial.

   Attending them were leading officials of the party, power and economic organs and working people's organizations, people from all walks of life, youth and students, it said.

  
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North Korean Media Stress 'Venus,' Alluding to Heir Apparent

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Reporting on natural wonders on the first day of 2010, North Korean media on Jan. 2 put an emphasis on Venus, the brightest natural object in the night sky after the moon, in what is seen as an allusion to the heir to the socialist country's leader.

   Citing an observation by the Group for Comprehensive Exploration of Lake Chon on Mt. Paektu, the (North) Korean Central News Agency and the (North) Korean Central Broadcasting Station reported myriads of natural wonders could be seen on peaks of the mountain, the side of Lake Chon and in the sky over the mountain.

   "The sky of Mt. Paektu was bright with the full moon till the dawn of the day, the visibility registering 10 meters. Venus called 'Saeppyol' shed exceptionally bright rays over Lake Chon at sunrise," the media said.

   Located on the border of North Korea and China, the 2,744-meter-high mountain is sanctified by the North as Kim Jong-il's birthplace. On its summit, there is a crater filled with water and surrounded by several peaks.

   The stress of Venus in the news report is widely seen as hinting that Kim may redouble efforts to lay the groundwork for handing over power to his successor. The 68-year-old North Korean leader is widely believed to have picked his third and youngest son, Jong-un, as his successor in January 2009 after suffering a stroke in August the previous year.
According to North Korea watchers in Seoul, Jong-un had been nickednamed "Saeppyol General" till 2004 when his mother was alive, while the moniker is still in use in the communist country.

   Although North Korean media usually report on natural wonders on the first day of each year, it is the first time since 2000 that the North Korean media has mentioned Venus, according to the watchers.

   Meanwhile, a defector organization based in Seoul said on Jan. 5 that the Workers' Party of (North) Korea, the North's ruling party, has handed down a decree ordering the people to commemorate Kim Jong-un's birthday on Jan. 8 and designating the day as a national holiday.

   According to North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity, the decree stipulates that the entire Party apparatus, army and people should celebrate Jan. 8 as the younger Kim's birthday.

  
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North Korea Names Rason as 'Special City'

  
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Jan. 4 designated Rason, the country's first free trade zone, as a "special city," the North's official news media reported.
North Korea designated Rajin and nearby Sonbong, located on the country's northernmost coast close to both China and Russia, as an economic free trade zone in 1991, though foreign investment has never materialized.

   According to the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) monitored in Seoul, the North's Supreme People's Assembly Presidium designated Rason as a special city in a decree.

   The North's Cabinet and related agencies will take steps to implement the decree, the KCNA said. However, the news agency did not elaborate on what the special city is or what the steps are.

   The decree follows North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's visit to the city in December last year for the first time since it was named a free trade zone and the New Year's editorial, jointly issued on Jan. 1 by the party, the army and the youth military. The editorial declared North Korea will focus on raising its people's living conditions by revamping its light and agricultural industries and expanding external markets and trade.

   In recent years, the North has tried to reinvigorate the trade zone, signing an accord with Russia to restore railways that could help rejuvenate the port there. Russia invested 140 million euro (US$202 million) in the Rason project in late 2008.

   It is also believed that the North reached an agreement with China to develop Rajin port, the largest port in Rason, into an international logistics hub. In 2007, the allies drew up plans to build new roads there to connect the area with China's Hunchun.

  
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N. Korean Leader Makes New Year Tours to Industrial Sites

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has provided a series of New Year field guidance tours to industrial sites, the North's official news media reported on Jan. 4, in an apparent bid to show his will to focus this year on overcoming the country's economic crisis.

   The (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), monitored in Seoul, said Kim has inspected the Huichon Power Station in Jakang Province, his first public activity this year, before giving field guidance to the Jaeryong Mine in South Hwanghae Province.

   As is customary, the KCNA failed to clarify when he made the New Year field guidance tours. In 2009, Kim's first public appearance was a visit to the 105 Tank Division under the (North) Korean People's Army (KPA).

   Kim's visits to the industrial sites are seen as expressing his strong resolve to turn around the North Korean economy, which is believed to be on the brink of collapse due to internal problems and international sanctions.

   The KCNA said Kim expressed great satisfaction over the fact that the builders of the power station have done a lot of work in a matter of several months and are bringing about miracles and innovations day by day.

   "It is a very difficult and Herculean task to finish the vast project in a matter of 2-3 years but the whole party and army and all the people need to turn out in a great offensive to wind up the construction before 2012," the KCNA quoted the North Korean leader as saying.

   The North Korean media said on Jan. 5 that Kim, chairman of the North's National Defense Commission, inspected a sub-unit of the KPA 105 Tank Division, his first visit to a military unit this year.

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North Koreans Studying Joint New Year Editorial: KCNA

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Koreans have been studying an official New Year's editorial released by the country's leading newspapers, with factories and enterprises preaching the joint statement to employees and commuters reading it on buses, subways and other public places, Pyongyang's media said on Jan. 5.

   The report, carried by the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), comes after about 100,000 people rallied in Pyongyang on Jan. 2 to pledge support for the socialist nation's New Year policies.

   The editorial called for the rapid development of agriculture, light industry and the production of higher-quality consumer goods, while urging improved relations with the U.S. and South Korea.

   "Upon receiving the joint editorial, the people are of a view that only when they grasp the ideas and contents of it, could they uphold the noble intention of the Workers' Party of (North) Korea, which regards it as the overriding principle in its activities to improve the people's living standard steadily and spares nothing for them," the KCNA said.

   It said that the North's mass media have repeatedly released the full text of the joint editorial or articles explaining its content for the purpose of helping the people in their study.

   The KCNA noted that officials at factories, enterprises and co-op farms throughout the country are striving to convey the ideas and content of the editorial to the people through various methods.

   It also said a large number of factories, including the Kimjongsuk Pyongyang Silk Mill, are explaining the editorial to their employees in a profound way and encouraging them to launch a sweeping campaign to bring about a drastic turn in improving livelihoods.

   "Passionate seminars on the editorial are held at working sites during breaks in combination with practice and people reading the editorial are seen in buses, subway cars and other public places," said the report.

  (END)