The control the North Korean government exerts over its people was more than evident at the extensive funeral service for the late Kim Jong-il. Scrutiny of the vast crowd of mourners revealed that many were not wearing gloves, hats or scarves though it was clearly snowing and temperatures were reported to be as low as minus nine Celsius (15 Fahrenheit). Agence France-Press (via Raw Story) reports that Daily NK, a South Korean-based newspaper written by defectors, said that it had received information about the “level of stage-management” involved in the December 28 ceremony from a source in Pyongyang. Because Kim Jong-il had chosen to escort the hearse carrying his father’s body bare-headed and gloveless, North Korean civilians were required to go without the same.
Videos of the crowds showed people blowing on their hands to warm them. Students were under orders to keep watch on the behavior of the mourners, who had been informed that “behind every line there will be people watching.”
Policy makers are watching the new North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, closely, to see if he will be able to consolidate his dynastic hold on power, or whether he will rely on regents and caretakers (including his powerful uncle) to run the country. On Saturday, Kim was made supreme commander of the 1.2 million-member Korean People’s Army; he made statements about the South Korean government as “national traitors” and vowed “punishment” and “revenge.”
In a New Year’s Day editorial published in the official newspapers of the Workers’ Party, the Korean People’s Army and the Socialist Youth League, North Korea acknowledged the country’s food crisis as a “burning issue” while saying that it will improve “the economy of the impoverished, authoritarian country and exhorted the people to revolutionize the farm industry, increase coal production and improve the performance of light industry.” Few details about how the North Korean government would conduct these economic improvements were noted, says the New York Times. The editorial was not short on proclamations such as North Korea being “at the epochal point of opening the gates of a thriving country” and calling the South Korean government in Pyongyang a “socialist fairyland.”
The editorial said that relations between the two Koreas will not improve under the current South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, said. It also demanded that Washington withdraw its 28,500 “imperialist invasion troops” from South Korea.
China’s President Hu Jintao officially endorsed Kim Jong-un on Saturday, saying that the ”friendly cooperation” between China and North Korea will certainly “strengthen.”
In his New Year’s speech the following day, South Korean president Lee Myung-bak said that the Korean peninsula is at a “turning point” and that there is “a new opportunity amid changes and uncertainty.” Peace and security are top priorities and South Korea will “respond strongly” to any provocations from the north. The two Koreas remain technically at war; Lee also said that, should North Korea end its nuclear activities, aid-for-disarmament talks could be resumed.
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