Kim portraits removed, report confirms

Pyongyang (AsiaNews/AFP) – Contrary to a denial made last week, portraits of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il leader have been removed from sites visited by foreigners. This was confirmed by Choson Sinbo, a Tokyo-based Korean-language news Website run by the Pyongyang-controlled General Association of Korean Residents in Japan.

The measure, the website said, reflected the "noble will of General Kim Jong-il who wants to hold up only President Kim Il-sung aloft".

Kim Jong-il has ruled the country of 23 million since his father Kim Il-sung died in 1994. Son, like father, has imposed the cult of his personality as well as the veneration of his father.

Although places where foreign visitors gather display only Kim Il-sung portraits [. . .] portraits of the senior Kim and his eldest son are said to still hang side by side in homes and state buildings in North Korea.

Western diplomats in Pyongyang last week said portraits had started coming down from public buildings in the capital.

On Friday, a North Korean foreign ministry official rejected media reports about the disappearance of Kim Jong-il portraits calling them a "groundless fabrication" spread by the United States and its allies.

Still, government media in North Korea last week stopped referring to President Kim Jong-il as 'Dear leader'.

Some analysts believe that is likely that Mr Kim's, aware that his personality cult was the subject of ridicule abroad, was trying to improve his image.

Others see these steps as a prelude to changes in the country's political leadership under pressure from the US and the international community over nuclear weapons.