Tensions with Seoul mar birthday celebrations for N. Korean president
February 16, 1997
Web posted at: 12:43 p.m. EST (1243 GMT)
PYONGYANG, North Korea (CNN) -- North Korea glorified
President Kim Jong Il as if he were deity Sunday on his 55th
birthday, but a diplomatic standoff with rival South Korea
cast the leader in a less-than-divine light.
Thousands of birthday revelers crowded the streets of
Pyongyang to honor their leader. Fireworks boomed, state-run
television beamed pictures of happy celebrants, and diplomats
praised Kim, known as "Dear Leader" in his Stalinist
(503.6 K/45.7 sec. QuickTime movie)
The official North Korean newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, boasted:
"The Great General Kim Jong Il is trusted absolutely,
eternally and fully as if he were a god."
But the celebration appeared scaled down due to severe food
shortages throughout the nation. Live coverage of the event
was abruptly canceled without explanation.
"It's dangerous to invite tens of thousands of hungry
citizens to the North Korean capital," explained Korean
analyst Nozomu Akizuki. "You have to remember people down
there are really starving."
Chilled atmosphere on Korean Peninsula
The celebration seemed to be overshadowed further by a
series of events that have heightened tensions on the Korean
Peninsula, capped off by a Saturday shooting in South Korea
of a prominent North Korean defector.
Police said Lee Han-young, 36, was shot in the head and chest
outside a friend's apartment south of Seoul. Doctors said he
remained brain dead Sunday and was unlikely to survive.
Two empty cartridges from a Belgian-made Browning pistol, a
standard weapon for North Korean agents, were found near
Lee's body, police said.
Lee, a nephew of President Kim's first wife, had defected to
South Korea in 1982. His real name is Lee Il Nam, and he had
been under close protection since his arrival because of his
relationship to the North Korean president.
The shooting came three days after Hwang Jang Yop, a founder
of Communist North Korea, fled to Seoul's consulate in
Beijing and sought asylum. North Korea has refused to accept
news of the defection, contending Hwang was kidnapped. The
North has also pledged unspecified retaliation.
Seoul linked Saturday's shooting to Hwang's defection. "In
response to the
Hwang incident, North Korea has threatened to take
hundred- and thousand-fold revenge. This attack shows that
the threat is something concrete," South Korean Prime
Minister Lee Soo-sung said.
The prime minister ordered greater security at government
buildings and other public places and protection for
politicians and other possible targets of terrorism.
S. Korean embassy under tight security
Meanwhile, outside the South Korean Embassy in Beijing where
Hwang, 73, is holed up, armed Chinese police set up a
fortress-like defense wall. Police cars blocked the streets
leading to the white consulate building. Officers with
AK-47 rifles made occasional patrols.
One North Korean diplomat, speaking on condition of
anonymity, stood near the checkpoints and repeated
Pyongyang's charge that Hwang was kidnapped. "We are
determined to prevent them from taking him to the South."
He added, "The Dear Leader is a pillar in our minds. Hwang,
deep in his mind, will be thinking of this day, and we
believe he will celebrate it as well."
Kim's birthday was a two-day festival this weekend in North
Korea, one of the world's most tightly controlled countries.
Most of its 22 million people have not heard of Hwang's
Reuters contributed to this report.
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