N.Korea celebrates heir's birthday in low-key style

AFP//January 7, 2011

Seoul - North Korea's heir apparent celebrated his first birthday since making his public debut in a low-key manner with the impoverished state facing a harsh winter.

There is no indication that the birthday of Kim Jong-Un, believed to be in his late 20s, has been designated as a public holiday in the communist state, which is immersed in a personality cult built around its founding family.

Pyongyang's propaganda machine gave no indication as to whether the country was celebrating the younger Kim's birthday as a public holiday, with North Korean 2011 calendars indicating that January 8 is an ordinary Saturday.

Daily NK, an Internet news provider on North Korea, quoted sources in the North's northeastern province of North Hamgyong as saying that there was no directive on the birthday.

"Everyone knows January 8 is the young general's birthday but there is no particular word from above," the source was quoted as saying. "No special rations or celebrations are likely to come."

Another source in the North's northwestern city of Sinuiju told Daily NK that North Koreans were expected to spend the day memorising communist party policy guidelines or making fertiliser from manure and grass as an ordinary Saturday.

"Various meetings and study sessions usually take place on Saturday and now is the season for gathering organic fertiliser," the source said.

A South Korean official said Thursday that North Korea had arranged low-profile celebrations involving only top military and communist party officials.

But PSCORE, an anti-Pyongyang activist group, quoted sources in the North's northern city of Musan as saying that goods such as soap, underwear and liquor were being transported by train to be handed out to people on the birthday.

The current leader Kim Jong-Il, 68, who took over from his own father Kim Il-Sung, is known to be accelerating the transfer of power to his son after suffering a stroke in 2008.

Jong-Un was in September made a four-star general and given senior posts in the communist party.

Kim Jong-Il was named as his father's successor in 1974 but his birthday was officially designated as a public holiday only in 1983.

The Kim dynasty has ruled the country with an iron fist since it was founded in 1948.

An unnamed South Korean official has told Yonhap news agency that the North had rewritten major regulations governing its party to facilitate the younger Kim taking over from the father in case of an emergency.

The party removed a clause that calls for a general convention every five years, enabling Jong-Un to take the helm at the moment when the leader becomes incapacitated or dies.

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