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North Korea marks anniversary with promotions, fireworks
by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) April 15, 2010

S.Korea rejects North's demand to stop leaflet campaign
Seoul (AFP) April 12, 2010 - South Korea said Monday it could not stop activists launching anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the tightly-guarded frontier despite North Korea's threat to restrict border crossings in retaliation. The North's military warned Saturday that it would take "decisive measures" soon unless the South curbed what it called a "despicable psychological smear campaign". As a first step it threatened to scrap military agreements guaranteeing the safety of South Koreans crossing the border -- a move which would effectively halt passage to and from a joint industrial estate at Kaesong in the North. The warning further chilled relations, after the North announced last week it was scrapping an agreement on a tour programme to its Mount Kumgang resort.

Tensions with Seoul were already high following the unexplained sinking of a South Korean warship near the disputed border on March 26, athough the South has not so far accused the North of involvement. Activists use giant balloons to carry tens of thousands of leaflets -- and sometimes DVDs as well -- into the communist state. These criticise the alleged lavish lifestyle and womanising of leader Kim Jong-Il as well as his reported ill health. The two Koreas agreed in 2004 to end decades of official propaganda warfare across their border. But the South's unification ministry said it had "no grounds legally or in any other way" to halt the leafleting by private groups. South Korea has urged activists to halt the campaign on the grounds that it inflames already tense relations, but says it cannot legally ban it.

The defence ministry, in a message sent to the North Monday, also expressed regret at what it called its warning to contravene military agreements on border crossing. The North last Thursday announced it would "freeze" some assets owned by Seoul at Mount Kumgang and let a new partner take over the tour business there from South Korea's Hyundai Asan. The tours, which once earned the impoverished state tens of millions of dollars a year, were suspended in July 2008 after North Korean soldiers shot dead a South Korean housewife who strayed into a military zone. The sanctions-hit North has been pushing to revive the business. South Korea demands firm agreements on the safety of visitors, a joint investigation into the shooting and the North's apology for the killing. Seoul has rejected Pyongyang's demand that South Korean officials visit the resort this week when it freezes the assets. "We express deep regret for North Korea's unilateral decision," said unification ministry spokesman Chun Hae-Sung, urging Pyongyang to retract it.

North Korea marked the anniversary of its late founder's birthday Thursday, following mass promotions for military top brass and a firework and light display in honour of the ruling dynasty.

Official media in the communist state have reported a festive mood for the "Day of the Sun", which marks the birth of Kim Il-Sung, who died in 1994.

The anniversary comes against a backdrop of deadlock in nuclear disarmament negotiations and rising tensions with South Korea, following the unexplained sinking of a South Korean warship near the disputed border.

The late Kim, who is still styled "Eternal President" at his mausoleum, instituted the world's first ever system of dynastic communist rule when he handed over power to his son Kim Jong-Il.

North Koreans on Thursday visited the Kumsusan Memorial Palace where Kim Il-Sung's embalmed body lies under a glass coffin and laid wreaths at statues honouring him nationwide, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

"They paid homage to the president, a peerless patriot, peerlessly great man and benevolent father of the nation, in profound reverence," the agency said.

Crowds also lined the banks of Pyongyang's Taedong River Wednesday evening to watch a firework and light display marking the anniversary.

"Kaleidoscopic fireworks and a variety of rays turned the nocturnal sky as bright as day," KCNA said.

Electronic signs reading "General Kim Il-Sung Is Our Sun" and "We Will Live Forever with the President" were displayed in the middle of the river.

The display demonstrated the desire of the army and people to "single-mindedly" rally around current leader Kim Jong-Il, it added.

On Wednesday Kim -- like his late father the subject of an intense personalty cult -- handed out anniversary promotions to 92 general-level officers.

It was the largest such exercise since 1997, when he upgraded 129 generals, strengthening his grip on the powerful 1.2 million-strong military.

The North still suffers persistent food shortages, worsened by a bungled currency revaluation last November that sparked rare unrest in the tightly controlled state.

South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper said the impoverished North imported more than 200 vehicles from China last week and this week.

They included compact cars, which the paper said were probably intended as gifts for mid-level officials to ensure their loyalty. The cars were pictured being driven across the Yalu river Tuesday, two days before the anniversary.

Kim attended a major military exercise to mark the Day of the Sun, official media said Wednesday, without giving the date of the drill.

The South's defence ministry says more displays of firepower are planned this month.

Activists in the South floated 100,000 leaflets across the border excoriating the Pyongyang regime on Thursday. Huge plastic balloons, one of them inscribed "Down with Kim Jong-Il", carried the leaflets across the tightly guarded border.

Some 200 DVDs, with footage about South Korea and the outside world, and 200 tiny radios were also attached. US dollar bills were added to the packages to encourage North Koreans to pick up the flyers despite the risk of punishment.


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