independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Kim seeks better living standards

Fireworks explode over Kim Il Sung Square in celebration of the new year in Pyongyang, North Korea (AP/Kyodo News)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has said his people must pursue economic improvement with the same urgency scientists put into the launch of a long-range rocket.

In a speech, Kim said boosting living standards was the new year's most important task - but he also called for the development of more advanced weapons.

He also called for a "revolution" in science and technology and more amusement parks.

Last year saw plunging inter-Korean ties, the collapse of a US-North Korean food aid-for-nuclear freeze deal and two North Korean long-range rocket launches that Washington and others called covers for banned ballistic missile tests.

The speech was the first televised New Year's Day message by a North Korean leader in 19 years.

North Korea founder Kim Il Sung routinely addressed his people on New Year's Day, but Kim Jong Il never gave a TV address during his 17-year rule. During his leadership, the new year's message was published as a joint editorial in the nation's three major newspapers.

North Korea also had its first grand New Year's Eve celebration, including the boom of cannons and fireworks at midnight in Pyongyang.

The speech was a clear acknowledgement that North Koreans want improvement in an economy that has long lagged behind the rest of north-east Asia. North Korea has little arable land, is prone to natural disasters and struggles to grow enough food for its 24 million people.

The speech itself was also a signal that Kim will continue with a leadership style more in line with his gregarious grandfather Kim Il Sung than with his father Kim Jong Il, who avoided making public speeches.

Kim took over after his father Kim Jong Il's death on December 17 2011.

Press Association

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