12/09/2009, 00.00
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Pyongyang, people protest against the poverty generated by the new currency

by Joseph Yun Li-sun
The sudden decision to change currency has destroyed the savings of the entire population, which for the first time publically demonstrates against a decree taken by the regime of Kim Jong-il.

Pyongyang (AsiaNews) - The decision to change the sovereign currency of North Korea, taken suddenly by the Pyongyang government last Dec. 1, has sparked a rare public protest in one of the most repressive countries in the world. The population, in fact, has set fire to small piles of old currency in the capital and in some country towns.

According to a local source, quoted by the Korean Daily, "it is the way in which the people have shown their frustration at an unannounced decision which has effectively transformed their savings into paper. Also because the exchange rate is 100 to 1”. Officially, the regime has ordered the change to combat those who accumulate money illegally through dirty deals. In reality, local sources say, "it is an attempt to moderate prices after yet another famine."

In any case, the government ordered the army to shoot on sight those who try to travel to China or the south of the peninsula. The decision was announced by the National Defense Committee, chaired by the 'Dear Leader' Kim Jong-il, who fears the flight of capital abroad.

However, according to estimates by international observers, the cancellation of the savings of the population will impose food cuts on North Korean of around 50 percent of calories. The farmers of the area of Sinuiju, contacted by South Korean NGO Good Friends, say: "We worked like dogs for months to survive the winter and now we are left with a pocket full of paper."  

The measure imposed by the 'Dear Leader' has however reassured the generals, who,  because of illegal trade, had seen dwindling resources to subtract from State warehouses to invest in their private businesses. Unable to crush the a flourishing traffic between country and city, army and police chiefs have tried in recent years to recover the revenue lost first by ordering the arrest of all illegal traders and then by imposing a system of bribes to permit thier release from detention centres.

 According to a recent report by East West, a research centre sponsored the U.S. Congress, in the northern provinces security forces are allowed to arrest any person found selling or buying on the black market. The payment of a substantial bribe, the sources said, "guarantees an almost immediate release and the continuation of business." According to Scott Snyder, director of the Centre for the policies between the U.S. and Korea: "All this further impoverishes the population. It's a move that a government takes when it is desperate. "


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