North Korea Marks 51st Anniversary
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ To celebrate the 51st anniversary of its founding today, North Korea issued a call for loyalty to leader Kim Jong Il and a demand for the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea.
The communist country, however, did not test-fire a ballistic missile as some had feared. North Korea usually marks such holidays with special programs.
Just before last year’s anniversary, it launched a multistage rocket that rattled the region.
``We should further strengthen the government as a powerful weapon for reliably carrying into practice the idea and politics of great leader Kim Jong Il,″ Premier Hong Song Nam said in a speech Wednesday night at a national meeting marking the anniversary.
The meeting, held at a 6,000-seat theater in Pyongyang, drew most key government, party and military officials as well as foreign diplomats in the North Korean capital. Kim did not attend.
The anniversary also marked the first full year of the Kim era. After three years of official mourning for his late father, President Kim Il Sung, the junior Kim officially took over North Korea just before last year’s anniversary.
Largely because of increased foreign aid, chronic food shortages in Kim’s North Korea have eased somewhat in the past year. But tension on the Korean peninsula flared because of fears that Pyongyang would launch a new missile.
North Korea has recently expressed willingness to negotiate an end to the missile dispute. The issue is high on the agenda of talks between the North and the United States that opened in Berlin on Tuesday.
The North Korean premier said in the report that a durable peace on the Korean peninsula is impossible unless the United States pulls out its 37,000 troops from South Korea and signs a peace treaty with it, a demand already rejected by Washington.
The premier also asked Japan to pay compensation for Japan’s brutal colonial rule of North Korea in 1910-45. Japan normalized relations with pro-Western South Korea in 1965.
The Korean peninsula was divided into the communist North and the capitalist South in 1945. The two Koreas fought a 1950-53 war and tensions have been high ever since.