Thousands rally in NKorea in support of military
By HYUNGJIN KIM,Associated Press Writer AP - Tuesday, January 6
SEOUL, South Korea - Tens of thousands of North Koreans rallied Monday in Pyongyang's main square to show their support for new year's policies laid out by leader Kim Jong Il calling for bolstering the country's military.
Pumping their fists in unison and waving red flags in tandem as they marched through Kim Il Sung Square for the government-organized event, the throng vowed to carry out the country's "military first" policies and pledged their loyalty to Kim Jong Il.
Kim did not appear in footage of the annual march broadcast by APTN. U.S. and South Korean officials believe the 66-year-old leader suffered a stroke in August. North Korea denies it, but Kim has not made a live public appearance that would confirm Pyongyang's claims.
North Korea's three main state-run publications had issued a joint editorial on New Year's Day that foreign analysts read closely for clues to the reclusive regime's policies for the coming year.
Thursday's editorial called for bolstering the military and reemphasized the country's "songun" _ or "military first" _ policy, notably at a time of heightened tensions with South Korea.
The editorial also cited North Korea's commitment to a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. Analysts noted that it did not include its usual criticism of the U.S.
Kim already has made two military visits this year: a New Year's Day visit to inspect a tank unit and a trip to see an artillery unit, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
On Monday, the spokesman for South Korea's unification minister, Kim Ho-nyeon, noted that it was the first time since 1995 that Kim Jong Il reportedly kicked off the new year with a military visit rather than visiting factories or his father's grave.
Pyongyang also appeared to be replacing senior policy makers and shuffling top officials as it faces a freeze in relations with Seoul.
North Korea's leadership fired a senior official on South Korea, Choe Sung Chul, reportedly for underestimating how hard a line President Lee Myung-bak's conservative government would take on the North, the mass circulation South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo said Monday.
Lee, who took office in February 2008, had questioned previous liberal policies on the North, and sponsored a U.N. resolution denouncing the country's human rights record.
An enraged North Korea cut off all government-level dialogue and suspended some joint projects in retaliation.
Associated Press writer Jae-soon Chang contributed to this report.
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