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NKorea stresses strong military in New Year message

by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) Jan 1, 2009
North Korea Thursday lashed out at South Korea but dropped its customary criticism of the United States in a policy-setting New Year message which called for a stronger military and economy.

The hardline communist state reaffirmed its commitment to denuclearisation and peace and had no harsh words for Washington, in the run-up to the inauguration of president-elect Barack Obama.

After a year marked by persistent speculation about the health of leader Kim Jong-Il, a joint editorial message also boasted of political stability under what it called "a great strategist and peerless statesman."

It acknowledged economic shortcomings and hardships, calling for efforts to put production on "a normal track," but said this should be achieved through the socialist planned economy.

"A radical turn should be brought about in the efforts to improve the people's living standard," said the editorial in the newspapers of the ruling party, army and youth league which sets goals for the year ahead.

"To relieve scarcity of food is a pressing problem."

United Nations agencies have predicted that almost nine million North Koreans will urgently need food aid in coming months.

The editorial stressed the Songun (army first) policy, which prioritises the welfare of the 1.1 million-strong military over civilians.

"The habit of giving priority to arms, military affairs, should be established more thoroughly in the whole of society," it said.

"Great efforts should constantly be put to the development of the defence industry... and everything necessary be provided for it on a preferential basis."

The North said its policy is "to denuclearise the Korean Peninsula and defend peace" but did not mention an impasse in six-nation negotiations on scrapping its nuclear weapons programme.

Talks are stalled by a dispute over how to verify the North's disclosures of its past atomic activity.

Relations with South Korea worsened after conservative President Lee Myung-Bak took office in February and promised a firmer line in cross-border dealings.

Lee said he would link major economic aid to progress in denuclearisation, a stance that enraged Pyongyang. It has cut off almost all official contacts and in December imposed tight new border controls.

Adding to the uncertainty, there were widespread reports that Kim suffered a stroke in mid-August. Seoul says the 66-year-old is recovering and is back in control.

The editorial slammed Seoul for failing to commit to summit accords signed between Pyongyang and Lee's liberal predecessors.

It exhorted South Koreans to "make more dynamic efforts to put an end to the fascist rule of the sycophantic and treacherous conservative authorities and remove the danger of war."

Professor Kim Yong-Hyun of Dongguk University said the strong criticism of Seoul signalled strained relations, but the editorial indirectly expressed hopes of friendly relations with the Obama administration.

"It is also telling the Obama administration that North Korea is willing to resolve the nuclear issue through six-party talks after Obama takes office."

As in previous years, the editorial called for all-out efforts to revive the moribund economy. It singled out the metals industry and also urged improvements to the power and coal industries, mining and rail transport.

It called for a sharp increase in production of consumer goods and the supply of commodities "to fully satisfy the people's needs for daily necessities."

South Korea responded calmly to the criticism.

"The New Year message was the way we expected it," said unification ministry spokesman Kim Ho-Nyoun. "We will continue our efforts to resume inter-Korean talks."

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NKorea's first foreign university delayed by politics: fund-raisers
Seoul (AFP) Dec 30, 2008
North Korea's first foreign-funded university is finally expected to open next year after being delayed by international tensions, the foundation behind the landmark project said Tuesday.

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