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North Korean tyrant Kim Jong-il died after flying into a fit of rage when he was told that a major dam project had sprung a leak, it emerged on Sunday.
Kim Jong-il collapsed during a briefing about a flagship hydro-electric power plant but managed to order “severe punishments” for those responsible before he died.
Secretive North Korea had reported his death on December 19 2011 – two days late – saying the leader suffered a heart attack while travelling on his personal train to a field inspection.
North Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported: “After being briefed about the leak, Kim Jong-il lambasted officials and ordered them to repair it.
“He rushed to make an on-site inspection of the facility unable to contain his anger and died suddenly.”
The plant in Huichon, Jagang Province, was built to solve the chronic power shortage in North Korea’s capital Pyongyang, meeting around half of the city’s energy needs.
Kim Jong-il was said to have visited the dam at least eight times since construction began in 2009.
State media claimed the “heroic task” of building the plant was finished in three years – seven years ahead of schedule.
Kim Jong-il died after flying into a fit of rage when he was told that a major dam project had sprung a leak
The dam is reported to be more than 300ft high and 1,800ft wide and capable of storing 850 million cubic metres of water.
An anonymous source said the problem was more than “just a crack”, and added: “The safety of the entire dam was in question.”
The news was the “final straw” for Kim Jong-il, who had also been told about serious defects in other key steel and textile projects.
The dictator, who was believed to have been 70 and had ruled the country for 17 years, had been treated by French specialists for a stroke caused by alcohol and stress.
The country’s new leader, Kim Jong-il’s son, Kim Jong-un, did not attend a ceremony in April marking the completion of the power plant to show he was still angry that it had led to his father’s death.
But Kim Jong-un has visited the site at least four times since taking over the country and is pushing ahead with construction projects of his own.
Meanwhile, power cuts continue in the capital, where temperatures fall below freezing in the winter.
The hall where the late leader’s embalmed remains lie in state is one of the few properties which are granted round the clock electricity – while many impoverished people go hungry and cold.
North Korea also marked the anniversary of Kim Jong-il’s death earlier this month, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets days after the country tested a long-range rocket.
The satellite it was carrying reached orbit before falling from the sky but has been hailed a success by the regime.
North Korea appears to be struggling to control Unha-3 satellite it put into orbit last week, a space expert has said.
The Unha-3 satellite was launched on board a long-range rocket on December 12, in defiance of sanctions and international warnings.
Pyongyang says the device, the size of a washing machine, is working and is beaming revolutionary songs to Earth.
But US astronomer Jonathan McDowell says it may be tumbling, and does not yet appear to be transmitting.
“Those two things are most consistent with the satellite being entirely inactive at this point,” he told the New York Times.
The satellite was designed to point towards Earth, but Jonathan McDowell said the light coming from it was repeatedly brightening and dimming, indicating it was not yet operating as intended.
“The preponderance of the evidence suggests that the satellite failed either during the ascent or shortly afterwards,” he said.
He told the Associated Press news agency that the device was still completing its orbits, and whether working or not, would remain in space for years to come.
North Korea appears to be struggling to control Unha-3 satellite it put into orbit last week
Stuart Eves, principal engineer at Surrey Satellite Technology in the UK, said it was too early to say that the satellite was dead.
He stressed that any spacecraft would be unstable immediately after launch, and that North Korea could be trying to rectify the problem.
“Depending on how they plan to stabilize it, they may have a problem,” he said.
“We take typically two or three days to get a satellite stable, and we know what we’re doing – whereas this is the North Koreans’ first try.
“It would be prudent to wait a little longer and monitor the tumble rate to see whether there’s any attempt to stabilize it.”
However, critics said the North Korean government was likely to view the launch as a success because the real purpose was to test rocket technology.
The UN Security Council condemned the launch, saying it violated two UN resolutions banning Pyongyang from missile tests, passed after its nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009
The launch last week was North Korea’s first successful use of a three-stage rocket to put a satellite into orbit – a similar launch in April failed just after take-off.
It appears to mark another step towards North Korea’s ability to field an intercontinental range ballistic missile.
Such a missile could be used to carry nuclear warheads.
The rocket was celebrated extravagantly in North Korea, with a mass rally held in the capital, Pyongyang.
State media credited the country’s new leader, Kim Jong-un, with the success, praising his “endless loyalty, bravery and wisdom”.
Pyongyang has said it will carry out further launches.
The US, South Korea and Japan want UN sanctions to be strengthened.
But China – North Korea’s main ally – says any UN response should be “conducive to peace” and avoid escalating tensions.
What is it like to surf the internet in North Korea, the most secretive country on Earth?
It seems that North Koreans begin to put their lives at risk just to connect to the outside world.
There’s a curious quirk on every official North Korean website. A piece of programming that must be included in each page’s code.
Its function is straightforward but important. Whenever leader Kim Jong-un is mentioned, his name is automatically displayed ever so slightly bigger than the text around it. Not by much, but just enough to make it stand out.
It’s just one facet of the “internet” in North Korea, a uniquely fascinating place.
In a country where citizens are intentionally starved of any information other than government propaganda, the internet too is dictated by the needs of the state – but there is an increasing belief that this control is beginning to wane.
“The government can no longer monitor all communications in the country, which it could do before,” explains Scott Thomas Bruce, an expert on North Korea who has written extensively about the country.
“That is a very significant development.”
There’s just one cybercafe in North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang.
Anyone logging on at the cafe would find themselves at a computer that isn’t running Windows, but instead Red Star – North Korea’s own custom-built operating system, reportedly commissioned by the late Kim Jong-il himself.
A pre-installed readme file explains how important it is that the operating system correlates with the country’s values.
The computer’s calendar does not read 2012, but 101 – the number of years since the birth of Kim Il-sung, the country’s former leader whose political theories define policy decisions.
Normal citizens do not get access to the “internet”. That privilege is left to a select number in the country, known as elites, as well as some academics and scientists.
What they see is an internet that is so narrow and lacking in depth it resembles more an extravagant company intranet than the expansive global network those outside the country know it to be.
“The system they’ve set up is one that they can control and tear down if necessary,” explains Thomas Bruce.
The system is called Kwangmyong, and is administered by the country’s lone, state-run internet service provider.
According to Thomas Bruce, it consists mainly of “message boards, chat functions, and state sponsored media”. Unsurprisingly, there’s no sign of Twitter.
“For a lot of authoritarian governments who are looking at what is happening in the Middle East they’re saying rather than let in Facebook, and rather than let in Twitter, what if the government created a Facebook that we could monitor and control?”
The Red Star operating system runs an adapted version of the Firefox browser, named Naenara, a title it shares with the country’s online portal, which also has an English version.
North Koreans begin to put their lives at risk just to connect to the outside world
Typical sites include news services – such as the Voice of Korea – and the official organ of the state, the Rodong Sinmun.
But anyone producing content for this “internet” must be careful.
Reporters Without Borders – an organization which monitors global press freedom – said some North Korean “journalists” had found themselves sent to “revolutionization” camps, simply for a typo in their articles.
Beyond the Kwangmyong intranet, some North Koreans do have full, unfiltered internet access.
However, it is believed this is restricted to just a few dozen families – most directly related to Kim Jong-un himself.
North Korea’s reluctance to connect citizens to the web is counteracted by an acceptance that, as with trade, it needs to open itself up slightly if it is to continue to survive.
While China has its infamous “great firewall” – which blocks out the likes of Twitter – North Korea’s technology infrastructure is described as a “mosquito net”, allowing only the bare essentials both in and out.
And it’s with mobile that the mosquito net is most porous.
While there is an official mobile network, which does not offer data connections or international calls, North Koreans are increasingly getting hold of Chinese mobile phones, smuggled across the border.
The handsets generally work within about 10 km (6 miles) of the border between the two countries – but not without considerable danger.
“The level of risk that people are taking now would be unthinkable 20 years ago,” says Nat Kretchun, co-author of a groundbreaking report into the changing media environment in North Korea.
The paper, entitled A Quiet Opening, interviewed 420 adults who had defected from the country. Among their stories was a glimpse at the lengths people would go to use these illegal mobile phones.
“In order to make sure the mobile phone frequencies are not being tracked, I would fill up a washbasin with water and put the lid of a rice cooker over my head while I made a phone call,” said one interviewee, a 28-year-old man who left the country in November 2010.
“I don’t know if it worked or not, but I was never caught.”
While the man’s scientific methodology is questionable, his fear was certainly warranted.
“Possession of illegal cellphones is a very major crime,” explains Thomas Bruce.
“The government has actually bought sensor equipment to try and track down people who are using them.
“If you use them, you want to use them in a highly populated area, and you want to be using them for a short amount of time.”
During his leadership, Kim Jong-il would parade hundreds of tanks through the streets to show himself as a “military genius”.
Many observers say that his son, Kim Jong-un, must in contrast show himself to have an astute technological mind, bringing hi-tech enhancements to the lives of his citizens.
But each step on this path brings the people of North Korea something they’ve not had before – honest information, which can have a devastating effect on secretive nations.
“I don’t see an open door towards an Arab Spring coming that way any time soon,” Thomas Bruce says.
“But I do think that people are now expecting to have access to this technology – and that creates an environment of personal expectation that cannot be easily rolled back.”
North Korean jargon buster
This is North Korea’s intranet, a closed system that those lucky enough to have access to can browse. Among the content are news websites, messageboards and other chat functions. Only the “elites” – members of high social standing – are permitted to use it, as well as some scientists and academics.
Koryolink is the official North Korean mobile network. Administered by Egyptian firm Orascom, it boasts over one million subscribers. However, it is not possible to make international calls on the service, nor can users access mobile internet.
Meaning My Country, Naenara is the name given to the main information portal on the North Korean intranet, as well as the specially designed version of the Mozilla Firefox browser.
Red Star OS
The Red Star operating system, used by computers in North Korea, is built on Linux, the popular open source software used by many in the wider world. Its introduction music is believed to be based on a classic Korean folk song, Arirang
North Korean historians claim they have unearthed a unicorn lair.
A report released by the History Institute of the DPRK Academy of Social Sciences claims that archaeologists discovered the lair of the mythical animal just outside a temple in the capital Pyongyang.
And, unsurprisingly, the lair – according to the report – means that Pyongyang was the focal point of an ancient, united Korea.
In what appears to be a suggestion of superiority over nearby enemies South Korea, the report says: “The discovery of the unicorn lair, associated with legend about King Tongmyong, proves that Pyongyang was a capital city of Ancient Korea as well as Koguryo Kingdom.”
The dubious report, released by the state news agency, says the lair clearly belonged to King Tongmyong, founder of the ancient Korean kingdom Koguryo.
It goes on to say: “A rectangular rock carved with words <<Unicorn Lair>> stands in front of the lair.
“The carved words are believed to date back to the period of Koryo Kingdom (918-1392).
“The temple served as a relief palace for King Tongmyong, in which there is the lair of his unicorn.”
Jo Hui Sung, director of the Institute, told KCNA, the state news agency, that the findings is in keeping with the country’s history.
He said: “Korea’s history books deal with the unicorn, considered to be ridden by King Tongmyong, and its lair.
“The Sogyong [Pyongyang] chapter of the old book <<Koryo History>>,” said Ulmil Pavilion is on the top of Mt. Kumsu, with Yongmyong Temple, one of Pyongyang’s eight scenic spots, beneath it.
“The temple served as a relief palace for King Tongmyong, in which there is the lair of his unicorn.”
A report released by the History Institute of the DPRK Academy of Social Sciences claims that archaeologists discovered a unicorn lair outside a temple in the capital Pyongyang
The legend of unicorns is thought to have stemmed from European folklore, in which the animal resembles a white horse with a single horn.
Until the 19th century the beast, considered a symbol of purity and grace, was still thought to exist – even by academics and theologians.
But since then there has been little to suggest that there are lairs elsewhere in the world.
The unbelievable news does however follow a number of bizarre claims to come out of the country.
It has been suggested, however, that the release of the story could be in retaliation against a spoof North Korea related story which tricked a newspaper in China.
Written by satirical website The Onion, China’s Communist party newspaper, The People’s Daily, fell for claims that Kim Jong-un was named as the sexiest man alive.
OTHER UNUSUAL CLAIMS TO COME OUT OF NORTH KOREA
At the women’s World Cup of football in 2011 the North Koreans put their poor performance down to being struck by lightning. Five of their players later tested positive for steroids.
Most of the more unusual claims stem from former leader Kim Jong-il and his biographer.
According to the book he reportedly warned the public in North Korea that he could control the weather with his mood.
He also claimed his birth had been prophesied and was heralded with a double rainbow and a new star in the heavens.
Years late Kim Jong-il was apparently very busy during university writing no fewer than 1,500 books in three years and composing six operas.
But it wasn’t just the arts he took a keen interest in. Apparently, in his first and only ever round of golf he shot 38-under with 11 holes in one.
Satisfied with his performance, he reportedly immediately declared his retirement from the sport.
Ryugyong Hotel, the 105-storey building which dominates the skyline of the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, may open next year, 26 years after construction began.
The pyramid-shaped building has become known as the “Hotel of Doom”.
Reto Witter, chief executive of the Kempinski group, which will manage the Ryugyong hotel, said only 150 rooms on the top floors would be used as a hotel.
Reto Wittwer said shops, restaurants and offices would eventually open on the lower levels.
Construction on the building began in 1987.
It is the 47th tallest building in the world, at 330 m, and has the fifth greatest number of floors, 105.
Ryugyong Hotel was scheduled to be completed in 1989 in time for the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students.
But construction was abandoned in 1992 when North Korea suffered an economic crisis.
Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang may open in 2013, 26 years after construction began
Its hulking, unfinished presence has long been an embarrassment for the North Korean leadership, analysts say.
Ryugyong Hotel was voted “Worst Building in the History of Mankind” by Esquire magazine in 2008.
The American publication called it “hideously ugly, even by communist standards.”
There are reports of poor construction and the use of inferior materials.
A delegation from the European Union Chamber of Commerce in Korea, which inspected the building almost 15 years ago, concluded it was beyond repair and its lift shafts crooked.
But in 2008 an Egyptian company, Orascom Telecom, which operates a mobile phone network in North Korea, began equipping the building.
It is reported to have spent $180 million on finishing the hotel’s facade.
Reto Wittwer said the hotel will “partially, probably” open for business next year.
But original plans for 3,000 hotel rooms and three revolving restaurants have been greatly scaled back.
Earlier this year, the Beijing-based company, Koryo Tours, which organizes trips to North Korea, was granted a rare glimpse inside the hotel.
Photos taken by the company showed a vast glass-covered lobby and atrium with tiers of bare concrete at its base, resembling a multi-storey car park.
South Korean activists have sent propaganda leaflets to North Korea, a week after Pyongyang threatened military action over a similar launch.
The group floated 50,000 leaflets in several balloons from a park near the border town of Paju, watched by a heavy police presence.
Local residents trying to stop the move got into minor scuffles with activists.
Authorities prevented a similar launch last week after North Korea said it would respond with a “military strike”.
Residents in the area concerned that Pyongyang would carry out its threat gathered to protest against the release of the balloons.
“Paju residents can’t live properly due to worries. They come here way too frequently,” a local shop owner, Kim Bok-nam, told Reuters news agency.
”Last time the North warned to directly strike here, so we came to protest since we can’t tolerate it anymore.”
One of the activists, Choi Woo-won, dismissed the North’s warning as “empty threats”.
Activists – some of whom are defectors from North Korea – have sent leaflets on many past occasions. North Korea condemns the move but specific threats are rare.
Last week, however, Pyongyang threatened to fire on South Korean territory if activists went ahead with a launch.
South Korean authorities prevented the launch from taking place, as the military went into a state of alert and hundreds of residents were evacuated.
Tensions have been high on the Korean peninsula since the sinking of a South Korean navy ship in March 2010 which Seoul blamed on Pyongyang, and the shelling of a border island eight months later.
North and South Korea remain technically at war following the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice. But North Korea has not fired on the Southern mainland since the end of the war.
Pictures have emerged showing the inside of the 105-storey pyramid-shaped Ryugyong hotel that has been under construction in Pyongyang for 25 years.
North Korea began building the Ryugyong hotel in 1987, but construction was halted for 16 years when funds ran out.
Although work restarted in 2008, the hotel has become, for many, a symbol of North Korea’s thwarted ambitions.
The 105-storey pyramid-shaped Ryugyong hotel has been under construction in Pyongyang for 25 years
The tour company that took the pictures say the hotel is now due to open in two or three years time.
Few people have been allowed inside the notorious hotel, which has been variously dubbed the “The Hotel of Doom” or “The Phantom Hotel”.
When conceived, the Ryugyong was intended to communicate to the world an impression of North Korea’s burgeoning wealth.
Few people have been allowed inside the notorious hotel, which has been variously dubbed the “The Hotel of Doom”
But other economic priorities meant that the hotel had to be put to one side, and it remained untouched until a city-wide “beautification scheme” was introduced five years ago.
At that time, external construction was forecast to take until the end of 2010, with work on the inside being completed in 2012 at the earliest.
But the photo of the interior taken by Koryo Tours, a Beijing-based company that specializes in travel to North Korea, shows a vast concrete lobby with barriers around the edge of each floor.
The floods that hit parts of North Korea in recent weeks have killed 169 people and left 400 missing, the state news agency says, sharply revising earlier casualty figures.
The floods and heavy rain in late June and July have also made more than 212,000 people homeless, it says.
Some 65,000 hectares (160,000 acres) of cropland were affected.
The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) says it is sending emergency food aid to North Korea after it asked for aid.
The floods that hit parts of North Korea in recent weeks have killed 169 people and left 400 missing
Official media had previously reported 119 deaths in the floods.
On Friday, the WFP said the initial food assistance would provide flood victims with 400 g (14 oz) of maize per day for two weeks, but it did not say when the food would arrive.
UN officials in Pyongyang who visited flood-hit parts of the country to assess damage said the need for aid was urgent.
Damage to infrastructure and farmland has affected the country’s already dire food shortage problem.
More than 8,600 houses were destroyed and another 43,770 swamped, along with some 1,400 schools, factories and healthcare facilities, according to the state news agency.
Residents in these areas need of food supplies, as well as clean water, as wells have been contaminated by sewage during the floods.
North Korea relies on food aid because it cannot grow enough food to feed its people.
Famine in the mid-1990s is believed to have killed hundreds of thousands of people.
A UN report released last month estimated that two-thirds of North Korea’s 24 million population suffer from a chronic shortage of food.
North Korea has requested immediate food aid after devastating floods last month, the United Nations says.
UN officials in Pyongyang said the need for aid was urgent after visiting flood-hit parts of the country to assess damage.
North Korea state media said that at least 119 people died and tens of thousands were left homeless.
Damage to infrastructure and farmland has affected the country’s already dire food shortage problem.
North Korea has requested immediate food aid after devastating floods last month
The most badly affected areas are Anju city and Songchon County in South Phyongan Province, and Chonnae County in Kangwon Province, said the UN.
Residents in these areas are in urgent need of food supplies, as well as clean water, as wells have been contaminated by sewerage during the floods.
A UN spokesman in New York confirmed that the North Korean government has asked the UN to release emergency supplies such as food and fuel.
Some international aid groups have already begun gathering supplies and donations. On Thursday, the Red Cross said it would allocate more than $300,000 for flood victims.
Recent images from Anju taken by state news agency KCNA showed houses underwater, flooded agricultural land and people sheltering in the upper stories of buildings.
Kim Kwang-Dok, vice-chairman of the Anju City People’s Committee, told the Associated Press news agency that the flooding was the worst in the city’s history.
The floods – which followed a severe drought earlier this year – have sparked fresh concern over North Korea’s struggle to feed its people.
North Korea relies on food aid because it cannot grow enough food to feed its people. Famine in the mid-1990s is believed to have killed hundreds of thousands of people.
A UN report released last month estimated that two-thirds of North Korea’s 24 million population suffer from a chronic shortage of food.
Arirang Mass Games will be held in North Korean capital Pyongyang from August 1st until September 9th, 2012.
Mass Games takes place in the one of the biggest world’s stadium – Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium (for 150,000 visitors). The most magnificent show on Earth involves over 100,000 performers.
Amazing choreography, unbelievable synchronism and intricacy of acrobatic numbers – result of many months’ hard trainings of thousands of people. Ninety minute-long spectacular performance really astonishes imagination.
Arirang Mass Games will be held in North Korean capital Pyongyang from August 1st until September 9th, 2012
After success of the Arirang Festival in 2005, the organizers decided to extend Mass Games into next years. In 2007, August 16, Mass Games entered to Guinness Book of World Records. The record of “largest gymnastic and artistic performance in the world was created in Pyongyang, the capital of the DPRK” the Guinness Certificate says.
The Mass Games at Arirang Festival possess an important ideological character praising the Workers Party of North Korea, its armed forces, Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il. These messages may not be clear to foreign spectators who are not aware of North Korean iconography: a rising sun symbolizes Kim Il-Sung. When a gun is shown, it signifies the gun which Kim Il-Sung gave to his son Kim Jong-Il. The color red, particularly in flowers, stands for the working class. And the color purple and red flowers represent Kim Il-Sung (as the flower “Kimilsungia” is a purple orchid and the flower “Kimjongilia” is a red begonia). A snowy mountain with a lake represents Mount Paektu where Kim Jong-Il is said to have been born in a log cabin.
From as young as 5 years old, citizens are selected based on skill level to serve for the Arirang Festival for many years. In most cases this will be the way of life for them until retirement.
Don’t miss this unique opportunity to visit DPRK and to see the most spectacular show in the world!
More details are emerging in South Korea about Ri Sol-Ju, the woman identified as the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.
A lawmaker, quoting intelligence officials, said they believed Ri Sol-Ju had visited South Korea in 2005 and had studied singing in China.
Other news reports suggest that Kim Jong-Un may have spotted her at a musical performance.
North Korea has not given any details beyond saying she was Kim Jong-Un’s wife.
There had been speculation about Kim Jong-Un, who took over as leader of the country after the death of his father Kim Jong-Il last year, after he was seen with a woman on various occasions since June.
State media confirmed for the first time on Wednesday that leader Kim Jong-Un was married.
A lawmaker, quoting intelligence officials, said they believed Ri Sol-Ju had visited South Korea in 2005 and had studied singing in China
An eight-minute report on North Korean radio mentioning Ri Sol-Ju’s name was broadcast at 20:00 local time on Wednesday.
South Korean lawmaker Jung Chung-Rai told reporters following a briefing by intelligence agents that Ri Sol-Ju was from an ordinary family in Pyongyang.
Ri Sol-Ju may have visited South Korea in 2005 as part of the North’s cheerleading team for the Asian Athletics Championships, Jung Chung-Rai said.
The cheerleaders are seen wearing red baseball caps, twirling umbrellas and dancing in the stands with tambourines, television footage of the event shows.
Ri Sol-Ju is also likely to have “participated in several inter-Korean exchange programmes”, reports South Korean news ageny Yonhap.
The paper cited three separate events between 2003-2005 attended by someone from North Korea with the same name as Ri Sol-Ju, including the championships.
It remains unclear when the couple got married. Most South Korean reports suggest that Ri Sol-Ju may have been a singer who caught Kim Jong-Un’s attention during a performance.
A source told The Choson Ilbo newspaper that a singer with the same name as Ri Sol-Ju had performed with the Eunhasu Orchestra until last year.
At least two newspapers, including the Choson Ilbo, say that Ri Sol-Ju has been groomed as the first lady, possibly studying at Kim Il-Sung University.
Ri Sol-Ju’s Western-style dress and short cropped hair have led to speculation over whether Kim Jong-Un has a less traditional, more international outlook than his father.
Hyon Yong-Chol has been appointed as North Korea’s new vice-marshal, the official KCNA news agency says.
The move comes a day after the army chief, Ri Yong-Ho, was removed from his post “due to illness”.
The decision was made by the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the National Defense Commission of North Korea, KCNA said.
The statement did not say if Hyon Yong-Chol was taking over the top military job from Ri Yong-Ho.
Hyon Yong-Chol has been appointed as North Korea’s new vice-marshal
Little is known of Hyon Yong-Chol, who is reported to be a member of the party’s 120-member central committee. He is now one of four vice-marshals in the army.
Ri Yong-Ho, 69, who was also a vice-marshal, was vice-chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission and held top posts in the ruling Workers’ Party.
Hyon Yong-Chol is believed to have been appointed a general in 2010 but is not currently part of the military commission chaired by young leader Kim Jong-Un, reports said.
He appears to be the latest rising star in North Korean politics.
Ri Yong-Ho’s removal took many North Korea observers by surprise, with widespread skepticism at the official explanation for the move.
He was seen as a key figure in the recent transition of power from Kim Jong-Il, who died in December 2011, to his son.
He was made army chief three years ago under Kim Jong-Il and appeared regularly at state occasions beside the late Kim.
He was also one of seven top officials to accompany the younger Kim as he followed the hearse containing his father’s body at his state funeral.
A spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry told reporters that Ri Yong-Ho’s departure was “very unusual”.
Some analysts say ”illness” is not an uncommon pretext in Pyongyang when a member of the elite leadership is removed.
Now in power for six months, Kim Jong-Un is rumored to be promoting a new generation of officials, and is being carefully watched for signs that he will take the country in a new direction.
Ten facts could paint the big picture of North Korea’s isolation from the international community.
1. High militarized area
The border between North and South Korea is one of the most militarized areas in the world, according to the State Department, with a combined total of almost two million military personnel under the control of Pyongyang (1.2 million), Seoul (680,000) and foreign powers including the United States (28,000). North Korean arms outnumber those in the South by about two to one, including offensive weapons such as tanks, long-range artillery, aircraft and armored personnel carriers. However, much of the military equipment in North Korea is obsolete.
2. Still at war
Both sides are technically in a state of war, after a ceasefire halted the Korean War more than 50 years ago. Tensions reached their highest levels in years in 2010 with the torpedoing of a South Korean warship, resulting in the deaths of 46 sailors. The South blamed the attack on Pyongyang, but North denied responsibility. Later that year, the North bombarded a South Korean island, the first such attack against civilian target since the 1950-53 Korean War.
3. 51 social categories
North Korea groups its citizens into 51 social categories, graded by loyalty to the regime, according to The Economist. Of those groups, 29 are considered to make up a mostly rural underclass that is hostile or at best ambivalent towards the regime.
4. Gourmet cuisine, starvation
Late dictator Kim Jong-Il had a taste for cigars, cognac and gourmet cuisine, while four in five of North Korean children suffer from malnutrition because food is poorly distributed. In March 2011, the World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that 6 million North Koreans needed food aid and a third of children were chronically malnourished or stunted daily potato rations have been cut by a third, to two for each person.
5. At least two inches shorter
Analysis of escapees from North Korea shows that those born after the partitioning of the Korean Peninsula in the North were consistently about two inches shorter than their counterparts in the South, according to a 2004 report in Economics and Human Biology. The minimum height for recruitment to the North Korean army is reported to have fallen by just under an inch. The well-nourished Kim Jong-Un was fit enough to have been a keen basketball player while at school in Switzerland, according to fellow students.
Kim Jong-Un was kept from public view until September 2010, when he was 27 years old and appeared with his father Kim Jong-Il
6. Secret children
Kim Jong-Un was kept from public view until September 2010, when he was 27 years old. The existence of his eldest brother, who was passed over in Kim Jong-Il’s succession, was hidden completely from grandfather Kim Il-Sung until his death in 1994.
7. “Clairvoyant wisdom”
North Korea is famous for its colorful use of language, praising its leaders and denouncing its critics. The statement announcing Kim Jong -Il’s death ran to 1,500 words, and was addressed to “All Party Members, Servicepersons and People”. It praised his “clairvoyant wisdom” and said he had “put the dignity and power of the nation on the highest level and ushered in the golden days of prosperity unprecedented in the nation’s history.” It concluded: “Arduous is the road for our revolution to follow and grim is the present situation. But no force on earth can check the revolutionary advance of our party, army and people under the wise leadership of Kim Jong-Un.”
8. China crucial
North Korea’s survival depends on crucial trade with China: in 2010, trade between the two was worth an estimated $3.5 billion, up nearly 30% from 2009.
9. What a golfer!
Kim Jong-Il piloted jet fighters, according to the country’s propaganda machine, even though he traveled by land for his infrequent trips abroad, reputedly because he was nervous about flying. He penned operas, had a photographic memory, produced movies and accomplished a feat unmatched in the annals of professional golf, shooting 11 holes-in-one on the first round he ever played — if North Korea is to be believed.
10. War, war or jaw, jaw?
Despite the regular tensions, at least one expert thinks the North and South have too much to lose from a full-scale military conflict. Dr. Jim Hoare, a British former diplomat who served in the country, said both sides had “gone to the brink of conflict several times” but stopped short.
“Seoul [20 miles from the border] is a vulnerable city and the North would face annihilation.”
Kim Jong-Un has made his first televised speech, as Pyongyang marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-Sung.
In front of cheering crowds, the new leader praised and offered respect to Kim Il-Sung – his grandfather – and his father, the late Kim Jong-Il.
As part of the celebrations, a huge military parade has been staged in the main square of Pyongyang.
Kim Jong-Un’s speech comes just two days after a failed rocket launch.
Kim Jong-Un has made his first televised speech, as Pyongyang marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea's founder, Kim Il-Sung
The attempted launch was condemned by the international community, amid concern that it was a covert test of long-range missile technology.
On Sunday, television footage showed thousands of soldiers carrying red flags marching into the square to the sound of drumbeats.
It is the first time Kim Jong-Un, believed to be in his late 20s, has been seen speaking publicly since taking power following the death of his father in December.
“I express my greetings to our compatriots in South Korea and across the world who dedicate themselves to reunification and the prosperity of the nations,” Kim Jong-Un said reading from a script, in an address which lasted more than 20 minutes, as the crowds applauded throughout.
“Let us move forward to final victory.”
Kim Jong-Un praised the country’s “military first” policy.
“Superiority in military technology is no longer monopolized by imperialists,” he said.
After the speech, soldiers marched past and saluted the leader. They were followed by tanks and artillery, and then an array of truck-mounted missiles.
The North Korean rocket launch has failed on Friday morning, Pyongyang officials have confirmed.
The rocket – seen by many as a banned test of long-range missile technology – was launched from north-west North Korea early on Friday.
The US, Japan and South Korea say it flew only for a short time before breaking up and crashing into waters off the Korean peninsula.
North Korea said its scientists were assessing what had caused the failure.
North Korea says the aim of the rocket was to launch a satellite into orbit – a move marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of national founder Kim Il-sung.
But the US and other nations say the launch constituted a disguised test of long-range missile technology banned under UN resolutions.
In a statement, the White House condemned the launch, despite its failure. The UN Security Council is due to meet later in the day to discuss the launch. China, North Korea’s closest ally, has called for calm and restraint on the Korean peninsula.
The rocket went up at 07:39 local time, South Korean officials said.
The North Korean rocket launch has failed on Friday morning
Its intended flight path would have taken it south, to the west of the Korean peninsula between Japan and the Philippines.
Both Japan and South Korea had threatened to shoot it down if it threatened their territory.
But officials from several nations observing the launch said the rocket had failed.
“Initial indications are that the first stage of the missile fell into the sea 165 km [105 miles] west of Seoul, South Korea,” the North American Aerospace Defense Command [NORAD] said in a statement.
“The remaining stages were assessed to have failed and no debris fell on land. At no time were the missile or the resultant debris a threat.”
Japan reported similar details.
“At approximately 07:40 we confirmed that a certain flying object was launched from North Korea and fell after flying for just over a minute,” Japanese Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka said.
South Korea said the rocket exploded into some 20 pieces and fell into the sea.
“We are conducting a search operation to retrieve the fallen objects,” a defense ministry official said.
Some five hours after the launch, North Korea confirmed it had been unsuccessful.
“The Earth observation satellite failed to enter its preset orbit. Scientists, technicians and experts are now looking into the cause of the failure,” state-run KCNA news agency said. State television carried a similar announcement.
The US said that North Korea’s behavior was of concern to the global community.
“Despite the failure of its attempted missile launch, North Korea’s provocative action threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments,” a White House statement said.
Pyongyang agreed in February to a partial freeze in nuclear activities and a missile test moratorium in return for US food aid. But that deal was put on hold last month after the North announced its rocket launch plans.
Earlier this week reports also emerged from South Korea of a possible third nuclear test being planned by North Korea.
North Korea conducted a similar rocket launch in 2009. On that occasion US and South Korea analysts said the rocket failed to reach orbit – but North Korea said it was a success.
The failure of this launch could pose a challenge for Pyongyang, which is holding a week of high-profile events ahead of the formal celebrations to mark Kim Il-Sung’s birthday on Sunday.
The Workers’ Party held a rare conference on Wednesday and the country’s rubber-stamp parliament is due to meet on Friday.
Both meetings are seen as formalizing the transition of power to young leader Kim Jong-Un following the death of his father Kim Jong-Il in December 2011.
A Pyongyang official has announced that North Korea is poised to complete preparations for its rocket launch scheduled for later this week.
A satellite will be installed on the Unha-3 rocket by the end of Tuesday, the official told foreign journalists in a rare press conference.
The official dismissed concerns that the launch was a cover for developing missile technology as “nonsense”.
Three Asian airlines have made changes to flight paths to avoid the rocket.
“We are expecting to complete assembly by today,” said Ryu Kum-Chol, deputy director of the space development department at the Committee of Space Technology.
North Korea is poised to complete preparations for its rocket launch scheduled for later this week
Ryu Kum-Chol said the launch was part of the peaceful development of North Korea’s space programme.
North Korea also says it will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of its late leader Kim Il-Sung.
But opponents of the move fear it is a disguised test of long-range missile technology.
The Philippine Airlines, Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA) have announced changes to the flight paths several affected routes ahead of the launch period between 12-16 April.
Footages from Kim Jong-Il’s funerals showed an 8ft member of the North Korean armed forces towering beside his fellow soldiers in the driving snow.
Observers of how the country’s media covered Kim Jong Il’s funeral believe what we are in fact really seeing is a spot of Photoshopping.
The seemingly doctored photograph of the soldier, who appears to be well over 8ft tall, shows him in the back row of one block of mourners.
The image was captured as the funeral procession passed near the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in the capital Pyongyang.
Footages from Kim Jong-Il’s funerals showed an 8ft member of the North Korean armed forces towering beside his fellow soldiers in the driving snow
Official news agency KCNA took the photo, and the giant soldier appears to be shown from several different angles. This has led some to say that the photo has not be manipulated.
Others believe it could be 7ft 8in tall North Korean basketball star Ri Myung Hun, dubbed Michael Ri for his prowess on the court.
The discovery of the giant follows evidence from this week showing how the scores of wailing mourners were not the only well-choreographed aspect at the memorial service.
Two comparison photos showed how a camera crew filming the sombre ceremony were apparently erased from history after being digitally removed from the picture.
Live footage from the North Korean capital is rarely seen outside of the insular communist dictatorship.
The tightly stage-managed two-day funeral seemed to be a message from the country’s ruling family that they remain in tight control despite the death of their figurehead.
There has been no explanation for the apparent omission from within North Korea since the funeral.
However, a note released by Reuters describing the previous doctored images said: “This combination picture of two handout images from KCNA shows a limousine with a portrait of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il leading his funeral procession in Pyongyang December 28, 2011.
“In the top picture released by Kyodo, a group of men is seen on the left side of the picture. In the bottom picture which was sent directly to Reuters by KCNA, the group is missing.
“Reuters now believes the bottom picture was altered by KCNA.”
North Korea has hailed Kim Jong-Un as “supreme leader of the party, state and army” after his father’s funeral.
Kim Jong-Un took centre stage at a memorial service in Pyongyang’s main square a day after his father’s funeral.
Kim Yong-Nam, formally the number two leader, told a million-strong crowd their sorrow would be turned into strength “1,000 times greater under the leadership of comrade Kim Jong-Un”.
State TV showed Kim Jong-Un surrounded by top government and army officials.
The memorial event appeared to be the Kim dynasty’s unofficial handover of power.
A three-minute silence was also held, after which trains and ships throughout the country sounded their horns.
North Korea has hailed Kim Jong-Un as "supreme leader of the party, state and army" after his father’s funeral
Kim Jong-Il died of a heart attack on 17 December, aged 69, state media said. He had ruled North Korea since the death of his father Kim Il-Sung in 1994.
“Respected Comrade Kim Jong-Un is our party, military and country’s supreme leader who inherits great comrade Kim Jong-Il’s ideology, leadership, character, virtues, grit and courage,” Kim Yong-Nam told the massive crowd gathered in Kim Il-Sung square.
“The fact that he completely resolved the succession matter is Great Comrade Kim Jong-Il’s most noble achievement.”
A top military official, Kim Jong-Gak, also addressed the crowd.
“Our people’s military will serve comrade Kim Jong-Un at the head of our revolutionary troops and will continue to maintain and complete the Songun accomplishments of great leader Kim Jong-Il,” he said.
Songun refers to the “military-first” policy – channeling funds into the military.
On Wednesday, thousands stood weeping and wailing in the snow as Kim Jong-Il’s funeral cortege passed, images from state television showed.
The ceremonies echoed the displays of pomp and military might that marked the death of Kim Il-sung, in 1994.
Kim Jong-Un – Kim Jong-Il’s third son – cried as he walked alongside the hearse. Tens of thousands of soldiers lined up to bow their heads in homage in the city’s main square.
Kim Jong-Un – who is thought to be in his late 20s and who has little political experience – was accompanied by his uncle, Chang Song-Taek.
Chang Song-Taek is expected to be a key player as the younger Kim Jong-Un consolidates power.
Kim Jong-Il – known in North Korea as the “Dear Leader” – was in the process of formalizing Kim Jong-Un as his successor when he died.
However, the transition was not complete, leaving regional neighbors fearful of a power struggle in the nuclear-armed pariah state.
Kim Jong-Il’s two older sons, Kim Jong-Nam and Kim Jong-Chol, were not seen at the funeral.
No foreign delegations have attended any of the events. However, UN offices around the world lowered their flags to half-mast.
A spokesman at the UN headquarters in New York said that the move had been requested by Pyongyang’s UN mission but was part of normal protocol for the funeral of any head of state.
North Korea has started the two-day funeral services for late leader Kim Jong-Il with a huge procession in the capital, Pyongyang.
Television footages showed tens of thousands of soldiers with their heads bowed as a giant portrait of Kim Jong-Il was carried slowly through the streets.
Kim Jong-Il’ successor and third son, Kim Jong-Un, walked beside the hearse, images from state television showed.
Kim Jong-Il died of a heart attack on 17 December, aged 69, state media said.
He has been lying in state for the past 10 days.
No schedule was released ahead of the commemorations and no foreign delegations are attending.
Observers said the ceremonies echoed the displays of pomp and military might that marked the death of Kim Jong-Il’s father, Kim Il-Sung, in 1994.
Kim Jong-Un – who is thought to be in his late 20’s and who has little political experience – was shown weeping beside the hearse as it drove through the snowy capital.
He was accompanied by his uncle, Chang Song-Taek, who is expected to be a key player as the younger Kim consolidates power.
Ri Yong-Ho, the army chief, also accompanied the hearse as it drove past ranks of troops.
North Korea has started the two-day funeral services for late leader Kim Jong-Il with a huge procession in the capital, Pyongyang
The three-hour funeral procession was led by a limousine bearing a huge portrait of a smiling Kim Jong-Il. The coffin was draped in a red flag and surrounded by white flowers.
As it passed by, crowds of mourners wailed and flailed their arms as soldiers struggled to keep them from spilling into the road.
One soldier interviewed by North Korean state television said: “The snow is endlessly falling like tears. How could the sky not cry when we’ve lost our general who was a great man from the sky? As we’re separated from the general by death, people, mountains and sky are all shedding tears of blood. Dear Supreme Commander!”
The procession was broadcast live on state television. When it ended outside Pyongyang’s Kumsusan Memorial Palace, state TV began broadcasting documentaries about Kim Jong-Il’s life.
Kim Jong-Il’s body had previously lain in state in a glass coffin at the palace.
Observers are keenly watching the line-up over the two-day funeral to see which officials are in prominent positions.
Kim Jong-Il – known in North Korea as the “Dear Leader” – was in the process of formalizing Kim Jong-Un as his successor when he died. However, the transition was not complete, leaving regional neighbors fearful of a power struggle in the nuclear-armed pariah state.
North Korea’s reluctance to open up the funeral ceremony to foreign delegations may signal that those hierarchies have not yet been fully agreed.
In the week since Kim Jong-Il died, state media has called Kim Jong-Un the “Great Successor” and referred to him as the leader of the military and the party.
Commemorations are expected to continue on Thursday, with a three-minute silence at noon local time (03:00 GMT), followed by trains and ships sounding horns. The national memorial service will then begin.
The inter-Korean Kaesong industrial park has been closed for two days for the mourning following a North Korean request, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reports.
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