Mon, Jan 10, 2011 - Page 4 News List

N Korea wary of backlash at heir’s birthday: official

AFP, SEOUL

The birthday of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s heir apparent this weekend was a low-key affair because the leadership feared public ire, a senior North Korean government official told South Korean media.

Open Radio for North Korea, which targets listeners in the North, quoted the unnamed official as saying Pyongyang had decided to avoid lavish public events for Kim Jong-un’s birthday on Saturday.

The birthdays of Kim Jong-il and his late father, founding North Korean president Kim Il-sung, are major holidays celebrated with massive athletic meetings and art performances.

The official made the comments in a phone conversation on Saturday morning, the station said.

In addition to the lack of events, the leadership put intelligence and security officials on special alert on Friday and Saturday to guard against riots and tighten border controls, the station said.

“It was highly unusual to impose such a special order considering there were no major events involving the public,” the station said.

It quoted the source as saying the lack of events suggested a nervousness that given worsening economic woes and food shortages, big celebrations might go down badly.

“People are saying even the regime must feel so sorry for designating the inexperienced young thing a successor that it can’t hold a big birthday event,” Open Radio quoted the source as saying.

However, the station said that Kim Jong-un is being rapidly groomed, overseeing military and security operations — a process that analysts have linked to the elder Kim’s poor health.

A South Korean unification ministry official said last week that celebrations only appeared to involve top military and party officials.

Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il’s youngest son, was made a four-star general and given senior communist party posts in September.

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