North Korea is denying reports that portraits of leader Kim Jong Il have been removed from public places, calling the accounts a US plot to overthrow his government, China's main state news agency reported yesterday.
"It didn't happen before, and will never happen," the Xinhua News Agency quoted North Korean Foreign Ministry official Ri Gyong Son as saying in the North's capital, Pyongyang. Ri called the reports "an intrigue that the US and its attaching countries want to overthrow" the North's government, according to Xinhua. It didn't say when he made the comments.
Russia's Itar-Tass news agency, citing unidentified diplomats, reported this week that portraits of Kim were being removed from buildings in the secretive North.
Kim and his late father, communist founder Kim Il Sung, are the focus of an intense official cult of personality in North Korea and their portraits are hung in all public places. North Korea is locked in a dispute with the United States and its allies over its nuclear program.
"General Kim Jong Il is the fate of the Korean people and the DPRK's socialism. It is unimaginable that DPRK people and army can separate their fates from Kim Jong Il," Ri was quoted as saying, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name.
"It is nothing but stupid and ridiculous acts just like trying to remove the sun from the sky," Ri said, according to Xinhua. "The adoration for the leader originated from people's life. It will never change."
When asked Thursday about the reports of the portraits being removed, US State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Washington had not seen "anything going on in North Korea to raise alarm bells."
Also this week, the Tokyo-based Radiopress news agency, which monitors the North, said the communist regime's state press had toned down the extravagant titles it usually bestows on Kim.
Foreign analysts suggested that Kim might have had such adulation reduced in an effort to lower his profile as a target for public discontent over food shortages and economic problems. But South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported on Thursday that Rodong Sinmun, the main newspaper of the North's ruling party, referred to Kim by the honorific titles "Great Leader" and "Great Commander," indicating that he was still in charge.