N. KOREA - Power Outages Frequent, Economic Problems Prompt Summit

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Title: Reasons for N.Korea Summit Evident

Story Filed: Monday, April 10, 2000 1:19 PM EDT

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) -- Power outages are frequent.

Construction projects lie abandoned. Few people can be seen shopping, and the main streets are nearly empty of traffic.

In the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, where only those who have gained the trust of the hard-line communist party are allowed to live, there is little sign of the famine that has killed tens of thousands of people in rural areas over the last few years.

But the North's severe economic problems are evident in its showcase city, and they may explain one of the main reasons that the regime has accepted the South's request to hold a summit.

The meeting will provide the North with the opportunity to attract more economic aid from its rich archrival.

On Monday, both countries announced that their leaders will meet in Pyongyang in June -- the biggest diplomatic breakthrough in more than half a century of alienation.

Last year, North Korea admitted that its economic hardships are nearly as bad now as they were after the 1950-53 Korean War reduced the North and South to ruin. It compared the last decade to being at the crossroads of life and death.''

By comparison, South Korea's economy has grown an average 8 percent a year during most of the 1990s, despite the Asian financial crisis, and is now estimated to be 25 times larger than that of the North.

The contrast is stunning when Pyongyang is compared to the cosmopolitan powerhouse of Seoul, the South Korean capital filled with glittering high-rises, stores and crowded streets.

Last week, as foreign journalists were allowed a rare visit to Pyongyang during official talks between Japan and North Korea, huge lines of people could be seen waiting in the streets for the few public buses that the government can afford to operate.

One night, a dimly lit bus was seen driving by filled with weary looking women in head scarves and military personnel and civilians in threadbare jackets.

In the daytime, few people were in the shops on the lower level of the big gray apartment blocks.

Across the city, soldiers could be seen patrolling the streets. Female traffic guards in bright blue uniforms stood at traffic circles, often with no vehicles driving by.

Pyongyang was eerily quiet.

Public outbursts of laughter were rare. People dressed in gray and olive green clothing, with subdued expressions, walked down wide boulevards in an orderly -- almost military -- gait.

Only the children showed any spontaneity.

Dressed in bright colors, some could be seen playing, slapping each other on the back and dashing down the sidewalks.

One girl in a red dress waved to a busload of journalists, only to have her mother slap her hand down.

Modern Pyongyang was erected with near pharaonic zeal to the cult of Kim Il Sung, whose son took power in 1994 after his father's death. Like his father, Kim Jong Il now rules North Korea with absolute authority.

Monuments devoted to the memory of Kim Il Sung are ubiquitous in Pyongyang. The capital's billboards do not advertise products. They show the Great Leader'' exhorting the people to glorious deeds.

Sites dedicated to Kim Il Sung are meticulously cleaned, despite the cost involved.

For instance, visitors to the mausoleum where Kim's embalmed body lies in state pass through a short corridor with round vents that blast hot air from all directions to clean away any dust.

Copyright ) 2000 Associated Press Information Services, all rights reserved.



-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), April 10, 2000



SEOUL - The volume of currency in circulation is down to 17.04 trillion won ($15.3 billion) as of March 31 from 22.57 trillion won at the end of last year, the Bank of Korea says.

The money in circulation reached 14 trillion to 17 trillion won between 1994 and 1998, but increased sharply at the end of last year due to Y2K problems.

http://library.northernlight.com/FA20000410160000022.html? cb=200&dx=2006&sc=0#doc

-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), April 10, 2000.

It seems there are so many stories out of North Korea lately about the fall of their power structure. I think the last one was the cake-taker, though. When foreign dignitaries had to sleep with their clothes on in their leading hotels, that tells it all.

-- Billiver (billiver@aol.com), April 11, 2000.

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