Sunday 9 December 2018

Mass rally in North Korea after congress bolsters Kim Jong Un

Kim Jong Un waves as people parade to celebrate the first congress of the ruling Workers' Party in 36 years (KRT/AP)
Kim Jong Un waves as people parade to celebrate the first congress of the ruling Workers' Party in 36 years (KRT/AP)

Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have celebrated the country's newly completed ruling party congress with a massive civilian parade featuring floats with patriotic slogans and marchers with flags and pompoms.

Leader Kim Jong Un presided over the parade and waved to the crowd. The four-day congress was the authoritarian country's first since 1980, before Kim was even born.

The rubberstamp body of more than 3,400 delegates endorsed his nuclear and economic policies, promoted his favoured officials and gave him a new title of party chairman.

By calling a congress - something his father, Kim Jong Il, never did - Kim demonstrated what may be a leadership style more like that of his charismatic grandfather, national founder Kim Il Sung. Kim Il Sung worked through party organs more than Kim Jong Il, who preferred using his own network of trusted individuals.

The new congress touted Kim's successes on the nuclear front and promised economic improvements to boost the nation's standard of living, despite the increasing weight of international sanctions over the development of nuclear weapons.

Mostly, however, the congress put Kim front and centre in the eyes of the people and the party as the country's sole leader.

His new title of chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea was announced during the roughly 10 minutes that a small group of foreign media was allowed to watch the congress in the ornate April 25 House of Culture. It was the only time any of the more than 100 foreign journalists invited were allowed to view proceedings.

As a military band in full uniform played the welcoming song used whenever North Korea's leader enters a public place, Kim confidently strode on to the stage, generating a long, loud standing ovation from the several thousand delegates.

In unison the delegates shouted "Mansae! Mansae!", wishing Kim a long life.

He and other senior party members took their seats, filling several rows on a stage, below portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

Kim Yong Nam, the head of North Korea's parliament, stood to read a roster of top party positions - calling Kim Jong Un chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea for the first time. Kim had already been head of the party, but with the title of first secretary.

His predecessors keep their posthumous titles. Kim Jong Il remains "eternal general secretary" and Kim Il Sung is still "eternal president".

Officially bringing more people into his inner circle, Kim filled two vacancies on the powerful Presidium of the party's central committee. Senior party official Choe Ryong Hae regained a seat that he had lost. He is believed to have been briefly banished to a rural collective farm last year for "re-education".

Premier Pak Pong Ju was also named to the Presidium. Other members are Kim Jong Un himself; Kim Yong Nam, who as parliament leader is the country's nominal head of state; and Hwang Pyong So, the top political officer of the Korean People's Army. Kim Yong Nam, 88, stayed on despite speculation from observers that he might lose his position because of his age.

North Korea on Monday expelled BBC correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, who was not among the journalists covering the congress. He had covered an earlier trip of Nobel laureates and had been scheduled to leave on Friday. Instead, he was stopped at the airport, detained and questioned.

O Ryong Il, secretary-general of the North's National Peace Committee, said the journalist's news coverage distorted facts and "spoke ill of the system and the leadership of the country". He said Mr Wingfield-Hayes wrote an apology, was expelled and would never be admitted into the country again.

"We are very disappointed that our reporter Rupert Wingfield-Hayes and his team have been deported from North Korea after the government took offence at material he had filed," the BBC said in a statement.

"Four BBC staff, who were invited to cover the Workers' Party Congress, remain in North Korea and we expect them to be allowed to continue their reporting."

Press Association

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