Thu, Feb 17, 2005 - Page 5 News List

N Korean leader uses birthday to defend weapons

DEFIANT CELEBRATION North Korean leadership is using the opportunity to defend its weapons and to warn the US not to enter `a war of reckless aggression'

AP , SEOUL

North Korean propaganda village, Gijungdong, is seen in the northern section of the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas yesterday. North Korea was marking the 63rd birthday of leader Kim Jong Il yesterday with feasts of venison for the capital's elite amid heightened tension on the Korean peninsula over the communist state's nuclear weapons programs.

PHOTO: AP

North Korea was marking the 63rd birthday of leader Kim Jong-il yesterday with feasts of venison for the capital's elite amid heightened tension on the Korean peninsula over the communist state's nuclear weapons programs.

Kim's birthday is a national holiday in the North. Festivities for residents in the capital, where the chosen elite are allowed to live only after being approved as loyal citizens, also were to include performances by circus and theater troupes, the North's state-run TV reported.

North Korea flouted the international community last week by announcing it had nuclear weapons and was staying away from international nuclear talks where China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the US have urged it to abandon its atomic weapons development.

In Seoul, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said he told US officials during a weeklong trip to Washington that his country has no plans to begin "large-scale" economic cooperation with the North before the nuclear dispute is resolved.

Ban said South Korea would continue to provide fertilizer and rice to the poverty-stricken state out of "humanitarian concern" despite North Korea's latest statement.

In meetings with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Ban also explained the importance of the construction of a joint economic zone in North Korea, which he said was only in the pilot stage.

On Tuesday ahead of Kim's birthday, North Korean officials heralded the event with more defiant rhetoric at a meeting of top communist party members and military officers.

"If the US recklessly opts for a war of aggression despite the repeated warning of the [North], our army and people will mobilize all potentials ... and deal merciless crushing blows at the aggressors and achieve a final victory in the confrontation with the US," said Choe Thae-bok, a secretary of the Workers' Party Central Committee, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

In the run-up to Wednesday's celebration, there have been festivals across the country featuring Kimjongilia -- a flower cultivated to blossom around Kim's birthday.

The North's state media also has been filled with claims of Kim's birthday being celebrated across the world, from Bangladesh to France, Poland to Pakistan.

"The birthday of leader Kim Jong-il is being celebrated as an auspicious holiday for the progressive people all over the world," the North's news agency wrote.

Kim's regime tolerates no dissent, and has isolated itself from the world behind the last standing Cold War frontier that divides it from the South.

Reports last year said that some of Kim's portraits had been removed from public buildings, suggesting possible cracks in his hold on power, but South Korean officials have insisted the North's government is nowhere near collapse and warned that such talk could push Pyongyang to desperate moves.

The country relies on outside aid to feed its people after suffering natural disasters and poor harvests in the 1990s, and its economy has also been devastated by the loss of its main patron, the Soviet Union.

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