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NKorea marks birthday of "great father" Kim with praise, threats

world Updated: Feb 16, 2009 10:09 IST

AFP
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North Korea on Monday marked the birthday of leader Kim Jong-Il with effusive praise for its "great father," renewed threats against South Korea and an apparent vow to go ahead with a rocket launch.

North Korean state media said streets, bridges and buildings were festooned with flowers -- especially the Kimjongilia national bloom -- and a range of celebratory rallies and events including synchronised swimming was staged.

"The (swim) performers impressively represented... the people's boundless reverence for Kim Jong-Il," the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

Across the heavily fortified border, South Korean activists launched leaflets denouncing the 67-year-old ruler of the hardline communist state as a vicious dictator.

"Let's overthrow Kim Jong-Il dictatorship!" read a slogan on one of the giant gas balloons that carried leaflets across the border.

Tensions are high on the peninsula after a series of increasingly strong threats from the North against Seoul's conservative government.

At a national meeting on Sunday to celebrate the birthday, de facto head of state Kim Yong-Nam warned of "decisive actions" against South Korea if it continued to "challenge" Pyongyang.

He is the highest-level official to threaten the South since relations soured last year when President Lee Myung-Bak took office in Seoul.

The North last month announced it was scrapping peace accords with the South, including an agreement on their disputed sea border.

There is also international concern that the North is preparing to test its longest-range missile.

On Monday it indicated it would go ahead with a rocket launch as part of what it called a space programme, echoing the explanation it gave in 1998 when test-firing a long-range missile.

"One will come to know later what will be launched in the DPRK (North Korea)," KCNA reported.

In contrast to the threatening messages, the focus in the North was on festivities, official media said.

"This February morning that beautifully ascended with our prayers, the earnest wish running over in the heart of the millions of people is the well-being and good health of our great father," said an anchor of the state broadcaster, monitored by Seoul's Yonhap news agency.

The regime uses Kim's birthday, a major national holiday, to stress loyalty to the leader and national unity. Free food, liquor, sweets and daily necessities are usually handed out to people in the impoverished state, which depends on foreign aid to feed millions of its people.

KCNA reported an "endless stream of visitors" to Kim's supposed birthplace at Mount Paektu bordering China. The upcoming anniversary prompted a spring thaw at the peak, it said last week.

Kim Jong-Il, like his late father Kim Il-Sung, is the subject of an official personality cult which ascribes almost supernatural powers to him.

Kim Jong-Il took over after his father died in 1994 in a long-planned move but the future succession is unclear.

Kim is widely reported to have suffered a stroke last August but is not known to have publicly named a successor. Yonhap has quoted sources as saying he has picked his third and youngest son, 25-year-old Jung-Un.

Some analysts believe a collective military-party leadership will emerge, with one of the sons as a possible figurehead leader. The North on March 8 holds elections for its rubber-stamp legislature, an event that may give some clues to the future leadership.

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