02/16/2011, 00.00
NORTH KOREA
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Kim’s birthday celebrated in great pomp but no food handouts for the people

by Joseph Yun Li-sun
Various kinds of celebrations were organised in Pyongyang, from a floral festival dedicated to kimjongilia (a begonia created in Kim’s honour) to children’s recitals. However, for the first time in a decade, food handouts for ordinary people failed to materialise, a sign of the severity of the economic crisis that is gripping the country.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – North Korea celebrated the birthday of its leader, Kim Jong-Il, who turned 69 on Wednesday. Various performances and sporting activities marked the event in the capital, including a children’s recitals as wells as a festival dedicated to kimjongilia, a hybrid begonia created in his honour. However, for the first time in more than a decade birthday handouts were not provided, a sign of the gravity of the economic crisis that is affecting the country.

The regime’s propaganda machine created a legend, according to which Kim was born on Mount Paektu, a mountain sacred to Koreans. In fact, he was born in a village in the Soviet Union when his father, Kim Il-sung, was waiting to become the leader of Communist North Korea. Still the claim has bolstered the claim that the leader is of almost divine descent, helping the regime hold onto power.

According to North Korea’s official news agency, Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), planes delivered gifts to eight islands in the Yellow Sea as part of an annual handout of candy, chewing gum and cookies to children.

However, Seoul-based Daily NK, which is open to North Korean exiles, said that birthday food handouts did not materialise. Usually, the authorities provide five to ten days' worth of rice or corn three days before the birthday. This year, nothing of the sort was done for the provinces.

Whilst ordinary North Koreans endure hunger, Kim Jong-Il’s second son, Kim Jong-chul flew to Singapore for a concert by Eric Clapton, whom he admires. South Korean intelligence sources identified him, dressed in black pants and t-shirt, with about 20 bodyguards, applauding at the singer’s performance.

The matter of succession and transfer of power between father and son has been at the centre of recent news coverage. Beijing apparently has given its blessing to a third generation of Kims to rule North Korea.

Meng Jianzhu, state councillor and China’s Public Security minister, “warmly congratulated” Kim Jong-il upon his re-election as general secretary of the WPK and Kim Jong-un upon his election as vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the WPK. Meng also hailed “the successful solution of the issue of succession to the Korean revolution.”

This has led some to believe that Kim Jong-il’s heir, who is about 28 or 29-year-old, has been given Beijing’s green light for a solo visit to China in the second half of February.

During his official visit to Pyongyang, Meng also signed a security agreement with North Korea, something KCNA emphasised.

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