N Korean leader seeks miracle cure
By CNN's Marianne Bray
(CNN) -- The leader of communist North Korea Kim Jong-il has called on his nation to follow a new revolutionary movement called "Ranam" in a bid to revive an economy mired in crisis.
The drive was sparked by "miracles" performed by workers in the Ranam Coal Mining Machine Complex in the northeastern port city of Chongjin, according to the country's official media.
The secretive leader of the isolationist state praised mine workers for their "revolutionary militant spirit" and applauded their innovative teamwork and work style.
"All the people should vigorously beat drums for building a powerful nation in all parts of the country holding high the torchlight of Ranam and perform uninterrupted miracles and feats, making an elated revolutionary atmosphere prevail throughout the country," the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported on Sunday.
Kim's calls come as North Korea nears collapse on many fronts. It is one of the most centrally planned and isolated economies in the world and was already in dire straits following the fall of the Soviet Union.
But a string of floods and droughts in the 1990s has pushed millions of people close to starvation, the state's healthcare is close to collapse, and the country relies heavily on international food aid to feed its 22 million people.
North Korea too funnels vast resources to maintain an army of one million and it has not relinquished control over key national assets or undergone market-oriented reforms.
The North's slide has been fueled by serious energy shortages, aging industrial facilities, and a lack of maintenance and new investment, analysts say.
While Kim has waged a successful diplomatic offensive to ease the country's decades-old isolation over the last year or so, many analysts have said that he must begin a program of meaningful internal reform -- a step that carries substantial political risks.
In 2000 Kim's regime made a bid to expand foreign trade links, embrace modern technology, and attract foreign investment.
And this year Kim toured the financial capital of Shanghai, a trip that North Korea's domestic radio reported in great detail -- a sign analysts said showed Pyongyang may be preparing the groundwork for a version of Chinese-style reforms.
Kim visited the Ranam mine shortly after his first official visit abroad -- apart from China -- to Russia, amid widespread speculation he was seeking to boost the North's economic and political clout in East Asia.
But a flurry of activities with former Cold War foe South Korea has come to a halt and strained relations with the United States has stalled dialogue.
Spread the drive
Despite these setbacks, rallies were held across North Korea on Saturday to spread Kim's new drive, KCNA said, calling for "absolute worship" of the supreme leader.
While the details of his visit to the mine were vague as were the directives for how the drive might work, Kim was impressed by worker productivity and by the speed with which the mine met its orders.
According to the KCNA, the mine has introduced more than 60 innovations in the last year and saved 10,000 tons of coal and 576,000 kwh of electricity.
Kim told KCNA he is launching Ranam to "build a powerful nation" in the new century, boosted by creation and innovation, and centered around a strong military.
But seven years after succeeding his father, the late President Kim II Sung, analysts say the younger Kim will need to carry out serious market reform if he is to lift the country out of its economic crisis and massive food shortages.
Even if Kim is aware of the need to reform and is prepared to take risks to initiate the process, he is likely to face major problems winnng over hard-liners in the ruling hierachy and explaining his moves to a deeply indoctrinated population, to whom the North is routinely described as paradise.
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