North Korea wary of backlash at heir`s birthday

Last Updated: Sunday, January 9, 2011 - 13:44

Seoul: The birthday of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il`s heir apparent this weekend was a low-key affair because the leadership feared public ire, a senior North Korean government official told South Korean media.

Open Radio for North Korea, which targets listeners in the North, quoted the unnamed official as saying Pyongyang had decided to avoid lavish public events for Kim Jong-Un`s birthday on Saturday.

The birthdays of Kim Jong-Il and his late father, founding president Kim Il-Sung, are major holidays celebrated with massive athletic meetings and art performances.

The official made the comments in a phone conversation on Saturday morning, the station said.

In addition to the lack of events, the leadership put intelligence and security officials on special alert from January 07-08 to guard against riots and tighten border controls, the station said.

"It was highly unusual to impose such a special order considering there were no major events involving the public," the station said.

It quoted the source as saying the lack of events suggested a nervousness that given worsening economic woes and food shortages, big celebrations might go down badly.

"People are saying even the regime must feel so sorry for designating the inexperienced young thing a successor that it can`t hold a big birthday event," it quoted the source as saying.

The station noted however that Jong-Un is being rapidly groomed, overseeing military and security operations -- a process that analysts have linked to the elder Kim`s poor health.

Jong-Un, Kim Jong-Il`s youngest son, was last September made a four-star general and given senior communist party posts.

Since then, the leader-in-waiting, believed to be aged 28, has constantly accompanied his father on trips to military posts and industrial facilities.

The dynasty has ruled with an iron fist since its foundation in 1948.

But Seoul-based groups with contacts in the North have reported public scepticism about the succession, especially given Jong-Un`s youth and the faltering economy.

South Korea`s Unification Ministry official said last week that celebrations only appeared to involve top military and party officials.

Bureau Report



First Published: Sunday, January 9, 2011 - 13:44

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