North Koreans pay tribute to founder on Lunar New Year

The Associated Press/January 26, 2009

Seoul, South Korea: North Koreans marked the Lunar New Year on Monday by paying homage to the communist regime's late founder Kim Il Sung, who remains the isolated nation's "eternal president" 15 years after his death.

Footage broadcast by APTN showed a stream of people, some holding the hands of their children, offering bouquets of flowers and making deep bows in front of a huge statue of the former leader, whose son, Kim Jong Il, now rules the country.

A flower basket with a tag marked "Kim Jong Il" was also seen in front of the 75-foot (23-meter) statue on a low hill overlooking the capital city, Pyongyang.

The first day of the Lunar New Year is a traditional holiday celebrated in both Koreas. North Koreans usually visit the Kim statue on major national holidays, including the founder's April birthday, known as the "Day of the Sun."

An intense cult of personality surrounding the older Kim helped him rule with absolute authority until his death in 1994.

His son took over the country - as well as the personality cult - in communism's first hereditary transfer of power. Kim Jong Il hasn't named a successor yet, but experts say he will anoint one of his three sons as an heir.

North Korea is one of the world's most isolated and impoverished nations, with no freedom of speech allowed.

The country has relied on foreign assistance to help feed its 23 million people since its economy was devastated by natural disasters and mismanagement in the mid-1990s.

But the regime says it aims to turn the country into a "prosperous and powerful" nation by 2012 - the 100th anniversary of founder Kim's birth, and has exhorted its people to work harder.

"We're sure we can do what it takes to make a prosperous and powerful nation," Pak Guk Song, a Pyongyang citizen, told APTN. "We will rely on our inexhaustible spiritual strength, even though we have to face difficulties and ordeals."

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