North Korea Marks Ruler’s 81st Birthday
TOKYO (AP) _ North Koreans are lavishing official adoration on ″Great Leader″ Kim Il Sung for his 81st birthday, even as power in the isolated Stalinist country shifts to his son.
Celebrations for Kim’s April 15 birthday began early, with one speaker at festivities Wednesday extolling him as a ″stroke of luck″ for the nation.
But life for North Korea’s 22 million people is far from festive. Foreign analysts say the country’s economic output plunged 10 percent last year, and its citizens receive bare rations of food and their energy use has been curtailed to conserve electricity.
Still the personality cult around Kim is going strong.
″The birth of the Great Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung was a big stroke of luck that heralded the dawn of national liberation and rebirth on the dark land of the country,″ North Korean Premier Kang Song San said at a ceremony at Pyongyang’s House of Culture.
Kang described Kim as a ″peerless national hero,″ a ″great thinker″ and ″great statesman,″ said a report by the official Korean Central News Agency, monitored in Tokyo.
But Kim, ruler since North Korea was divided from pro-Western South Korea at the end of World War II, has retired to the background as his 51-year-old son, ″Dear Leader″ Kim Jong Il, consolidates control.
″With or without the titles, Kim Jong Il is the leader of the government and the party, with his father sitting back and acting as a guardian,″ said Ha Soo Do, leader of a Tokyo-based Korean Communist group opposed to the Kim regime.
North Korea’s decision in March to withdraw from the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty was made in the junior Kim’s name. His appointment Friday to succeed his father as chairman of the powerful 11-member National Defense Commission indicated the transfer of power might be almost complete.
The senior Kim looks relatively healthy for his age in officially supplied film footage. He remains the nation’s president and general secretary of the ruling Workers Party.
Few outsiders will see his birthday festivities this year. Last year, North Korea permitted several dozen foreign journalists to visit Pyongyang to observe the huge parades and other displays marking Kim’s 80th birthday.
This year’s celebrations were expected to be lower-key, although official media said there would be celebrations on a ″grand scale″ and colorful festivities throughout the country.
The collapse of the Communist bloc has stripped North Korea of its traditional allies and aid donors. Even China, the north’s last major Communist ally, now demands hard currency rather than barter trade for oil, food and other exports.
Appeals for Western foreign investment have made little headway, partly because of international suspicions that Pyongyang may be developing atomic weapons.