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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 220 (July 26, 2012)

Typhoon Khanun Kills 7 People in North Korea: KCNA

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Heavy rains and flooding brought by Typhoon Khanun killed seven people and destroyed hectares of farmland in North Korea, the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on July 20.

   The downpour triggered by the typhoon "seriously hit Kangwon and South Hwanghae provinces of the DPRK (North Korea), causing big human and material losses," KCNA said in a report.

   "In Kangwon Province, the flood left seven people dead, many hectares of farmland inundated and some of dwelling houses, public buildings ... destroyed," it said.

   Khanun, the first typhoon to hit the Korean Peninsula this summer, was middle in scale with central pressure of 988 hectopascals and maximum wind speed of 25 meters per second, Seoul's weather officials said.


North Korean Olympic Team Leaves Pyongyang for London

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's Olympic team left Pyongyang on July 21 to take part in the 30th London Olympics starting July 27, the North's official media said.

   The team consisted of 56 players in 11 sports events was led by Minister of Physical Culture and Sports Pak Myong-chol, the KCNA said.

   Earlier on July 19, the KCNA stressed that at the 29th Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, the North Korean team bagged two gold, one silver and three bronze medals.
The news outlet also said the DPRK (North Korea) achieved its highest results at the 25th Barcelona Olympiad in 1992, winning four gold and five bronze medals.

   The KCNA introduced Kim Un-guk and Yang Kyong-il as North Korea's best prospects for gold medal, as they won gold medals in men's weightlifting and wrestling, respectively, at world championships.

   Meanwhile, North Korean athletes in London on July 25 enter the welcoming ceremony at the athletes' village with those from China, Samoa, Suriname and Kenya.


North Korea's Main Paper Increases Space for Economic News

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Unusually heavy coverage of economic news in recent months by the newspaper representing North Korea's all-powerful political party may be a harbinger of a looming economic reform plan, experts in Seoul said on July 23.

   Experts well versed in North Korean issues said the Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the Workers' Party of (North) Korea, has carried an increasing number of economic stories since new leader Kim Jong-un took power late last year.

   The Rodong Sinmun, usually packed with stories about North Korean leaders or party policies, carried 132 economy-related articles in January and 141 in February, Cho Bong-hyun, an analyst at the IBK Economic Research Institute, said. The number soared to 233 stories in March, said the researcher.

   He said the number of economic stories that appeared in the party newspaper during the three months amounted to 506, compared with 439 during the same three-month period a year earlier when the country was still under the grip of late leader Kim Jong-il.

   Analysts highlighted that the increase means a tangible change in the stance of the newspaper, which used to cater mostly to the latest news on the late leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il or decisions made in the governing party.

   The analysts also noted that the editorial shift could also herald a potential economic reform to be driven by the young, Swiss-educated leader.

   The newspapers' increased focus on the economy, which comes amid mounting predictions over a looming reform in the poverty-stricken socialist country, indicates the North's efforts to set the mood for an economic drive as well as the country's bid to display its willingness for a change to the outside world, the analysts also said.

   "It is uncommon that the Rodong Sinmun carried main economic stories in the onset," analyst Cho said. "That indicates the North is setting its internal atmosphere favorable to a reform and showing its willingness for a change to the outside world."

   "Premier Choe Yong-rim's frequent visits to industrial sites and chairman of the joint venture investment committee Ri Kwang-gun's accompaniment of Kim Yong-nam, the head of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, during his Singapore visit also indicate a meaningful move toward an economic drive," Sejong Institute researcher Cheong Seong-chang said.

   According to Cheong's analysis, Premier Choe made 47 inspection visits to industrial sites during the first half of this year, compared with only 20 visits a year earlier.

   Expectations for an economic reform have been growing since Kim, believed to be in his late 20s, took power after his father Kim Jong-il's death last December.

   Experts are forecasting that the reclusive, impoverished country may soon come up with a second economic reform plan after its first reformation attempt in 2002 failed due to strong opposition from the military.

   Amid such anticipation, the Rodong Sinmun covered the country's industrial efforts to increase coal and steel production earlier this month.

   "I have closely followed the Rodong Sinmun for a long time. Its recent focus on economic stories indicates the country's new approach in its path toward change," said a Korean-American scholar, who pays frequent visits to the North.


N. Korea Ramps up Anti-President Lee Myung-bak Campaign

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea ramped up its bashing campaign of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, with its broadcasting station airing images of North Korean soldiers shooting at paper targets marked with Lee's name and campaign phrases.

   The state-run media (North) Korean Central Television, monitored in Seoul, aired a nighttime program on July 23 featuring security soldiers who accused the Lee administration of masterminding an attack on the statues of North Korea founder Kim Il-sung and pledged revenge for what they claim is an "indiscriminate scheme."

   The program also showed images of the soldiers opening fire at paper targets with Lee's name, parodied images and words of accusations against Lee written on them.

   The soldiers were also shown smashing blocks of bricks with bare hands, apparently in a bid to show off their determination, while a military dog was shown lunging toward a human-size rag doll with a name tag of the South Korean president.

   The soldiers said, "Every heart of the soldiers is filled with bursting rage against U.S. imperialists and Lee Myung-bak's treacherous party, which carried out the indiscriminate scheme of attempting to insult the highest dignity (of Kim Il-sung) and destroy his statues."

   The North's unusually heightened bashing campaign came after the two Koreas exchanged a round of tit-for-tat accusations over the alleged statue demolition attempt by a North Korean defector.

   The latest shooting simulation launched in Lee's images is the second of its kind since the North aired a similar one in March. The first one was aired following the reports that a local military unit put up pictures of new leader Kim Jong-un and late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il as military targets.

   The much intensified bashing campaign is widely believed to indicate the North's intention to further step up its anti-South campaign following the statue-demolition allegations.


KBS Chief to Visit N. Korea over Olympic Broadcasting Rights

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The head of South Korea's public broadcaster KBS made a visit to North Korea on July 24 to discuss inter-Korean broadcasting cooperation, including sharing the South's broadcasting rights for the London Olympics, the North's news outlets said.

   One day before, the Unification Ministry in Seoul said it has approved KBS President Kim In-kyu's visit to Pyongyang from July 24 to July 26 in his capacity as the chief of the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU).

   Kim and three other ABU officials will discuss whether to give the North the right to broadcast the Olympic event across the socialist country as well as ways to increase cooperation in the broadcasting sector during the three-day visit, the ministry said in a briefing.

   The North reportedly first filed the invitation for the ABU to visit in a bid to gain the broadcasting rights, which are locally shared by KBS and two other domestic broadcasting firms.

   KBS, MBC and SBS have entrusted the ABU with the decision on Olympics broadcasting in the North.

   ABU officials said their visit is likely to lead to the granting of the broadcasting rights.

   The North dispatched about 50 players in 11 sports events, including female soccer, marathon, table tennis, wrestling, judo and weightlifting for the international competition.

   Kim's visit marks the ministry's first approval of North Korean travel by a South Korean since a group of people were allowed to enter the country to pay tributes after the death of Kim Jong-il late last year.

   Analysts said the new Kim Jong-un regime seems to want to gain the broadcasting rights in order to solidify internal integrity through the popular means of sports games.

   "Kim's visit, allowed for his capacity as the ABU president, will be limited to discussing broadcasting issues with the North," ministry spokeswoman Park Soo-jin said.


Public Security Chiefs from N. Korea, China Meet in Beijing

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Talks between public security ministries from North Korea and China were held on July 24 in Beijing to discuss ways of further developing cooperation between the two organs, the North's official media said.

   The talks were led by Ri Myong-su, minister of People's Security of North Korea, and Meng Jianzhu, minister of Public Security of China, the KCNA said on July 24.

   During the talks, Meng asked Ri to convey the warm greetings of the Chinese party, government, people and security officials to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

   Meng also said "the friendly relations between the two countries would further develop on good terms under the care of Kim Jong-un," the KCNA said.

   The KCNA did not reveal the details discussed during the talks.


N. Korean Leader Pays Inspection Visit to Amusement Park

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has paid an inspection visit to an amusement park construction site, the North's media said on July 25, publishing Kim's third reported visit to the newly built facility in Pyongyang.

   "Marshal Kim Jong-un visited the Rungna People's Pleasure Ground just before the start of operation," the KCNA reported in an English-language dispatch.

   The official news outlet has covered Kim's two previous visits in April and early July to the amusement complex which consists of a mini golf course, a children's pool, aquarium and several other sports facilities.

   "The Rungna People's Pleasure Ground is one of the projects (late) leader Kim Jong-il was specially interested in," the media quoted junior Kim as saying.

   Kim underscored the need to build more edifices suitable for the sentiment and aesthetic desire of North Koreans, the KCNA said.

   Kim was accompanied by a slew of party and cabinet officials including his uncle Jang Song-thaek, according to the news agency.

   In his previous visit to the amusement facilities built on Rungna islet in Pyongyang, Kim was reported to have ordered the completion of its construction before the country celebrates the day of the victory in the war, referring to the June 25 Korean War in 1950 as well as the July 27 truce in 1953.


Mysterious Woman Flanking N. Korean Leader Identified as Wife

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean media on July 25 identified the woman seen accompanying North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in a recent series of public appearances as his wife, confirming his marriage for the first time.

   According to North Korean media including its state TV monitored in Seoul, the woman is named Ri Sol-ju. They reported that Kim and his wife attended a ceremony together to mark the completion of amusement facilities built on Rungna islet in Pyongyang.

   This is the first time the North has confirmed the marriage of Kim, who is believed to be in his late 20s.

   The woman first appeared on state media on July 5 when she was seen seated to the right of the leader during a concert. Analysts said at the time she might be either Kim's wife or a younger sister.

   The same well-dressed woman was seen again on July 8 paying tribute to late North Korean founder Kim Il-sung, bowing deeply while standing next to the leader, as uniformed North Korean military officials raised their hands in salute behind the couple dressed in black.

   Despite such repeated public appearances, the North Korean media had not previously acknowledged the woman, prompting speculation over her identity and her relationship with Kim, who assumed control of the communist nation after his father Kim Jong-il died in December.

   Details about her are not available. A source here speculated that she used to be a member of an art troupe.

   The North's confirmation of the woman's identity is interpreted by some analysts as a way to dismiss images of youth and inexperience.

   The identification follows Kim being given the title of marshal last week, the highest functioning military rank, after sacking his army chief Ri Yong-ho, in what many viewed a move to further tighten his grip on power.