North Korea to Mark Ruler’s 81st Birthday in Deeper Isolation
TOKYO (AP) _ North Korea’s ″Great Leader″ Kim Il Sung appears to be becoming a figurehead, but his personality cult is still strong as he turns 81.
North Korea’s 22 million people will fete Kim on Thursday amid signs that his 51-year-old son, ″Dear Leader″ Kim Jong Il, has consolidated control of the isolated Stalinist country.
The elder Kim, who has ruled North Korea since it was divided from pro- Western South Korea at the end of World War II, has largely retired to the background, analysts say.
″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,″ says Ha Soo Do, leader of a Tokyo-based Korean Communist organization opposed to the Kim regime.
North Korea’s March decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was made in the junior Kim’s name. His appointment last Friday to succeed his father as chairman of the powerful 11-member National Defense Commission indicates the transfer of power may be almost complete.
The senior Kim looks relatively healthy for his advanced age in officially supplied film footage. He remains the nation’s president and general secretary of the ruling Workers Party.
This year, few outsiders will see his birthday festivities.
Last year, North Korea allowed several dozen foreign journalists to visit Pyongyang to observe the massive parades and other displays marking Kim’s 80th birthday.
This year’s celebrations are expected to be somewhat more low-key. Nevertheless, official media said therew would be celebrations on a ″grand scale″ and colorful festivities throughout the country.
″His thought and theories are immortal and so is his leadership. His love and exploits for the people also have eternal viability,″ North Korea’s news agency reported.
The stalemate over the nuclear issue comes at a time when North Korea has little besides Kim’s birthday to celebrate, analysts say.
The collapse of the Communist bloc has left North Korea bereft 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.
North Korea watchers in neighboring South Korea, China and Japan estimate that the nation’s gross national product fell by more than 10 percent last year.
The centrally planned economy supplies a bare minimum ration of food and daily necessities and fewer than a third of the nation’s factories are operating because of a lack of fuel, says Pyon Chin Il, a former pro-Pyongyang Korean journalist in Japan.
Earlier this year, the north’s official Korean Central News Agency reported that the government had restricted the use of heaters, irons, cooking utensils and other electrical home appliances to conserve energy.