*** NEWS IN BRIEF (Part 1)
North Korean Leader Kim Jong-il Continues Public Tours
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il watched an army volleyball game and a performance by a naval unit over the Lunar New Year holiday, Pyongyang's news agency said on Jan. 28.
During his latest visit to a volleyball match held between a team of the (North) Korean People's Army (KPA) and a selection of players, the leader stressed that the development of sports is very important not only in increasing the nation's power but also "in boosting the friendly ties with different countries of the world," the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
In a separate report, KCNA said Kim watched song and dance ensembles put on by the naval and air commands.
The dates of Kim's two visits were not given as usual, but KCNA usually reports on the leader's appearances the day they are made or the following day. North Korea celebrated the traditional Lunar New Year holiday, called Seol in Korea, from Monday through Wednesday.
Three days later, the KCNA said that Kim Jong-il inspected a sub-unit of KPA Unit 131 and Ryesong River Power Station No. 1 which was newly built and commissioned in October last year.
And also the news agency on Feb. 3 said that Kim visited the Tongbong Cooperative Farm in Hamju County, South Hamgyong Province. On the next day the KCNA says Kim Jong-il inspected the February 8 Vinalon Complex and the Ryongsong Machine Complex in South Hamgyong Province.
According to the North's news outlets, Kim Jong-il made frequent on-site guidance tours, with 13 inspection tours in January to follow up on his brisk activities of last year.
N.K. Highlights Developing Nations' Efforts to Combat Food Crisis
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A top North Korea newspaper on Jan. 30 covered in detail moves by developing nations to deal with the worldwide food crisis, with the authorities trying to ascribe the country's own food problem to external factors.
Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the North's ruling Workers' Party, forecast the food crisis would be protracted because of speculation in agricultural commodities, the global financial unrest, increasing population and abnormal weather.
It said such concerns lead each country to feel keenly the need to solve the food problem by itself rather than looking for others' help.
"China announced in November last year a mid- and long-term state food security plan requiring more than 95 percent self-sufficiency in food," the daily said. "Laos, in particular, is strongly demanding the whole society save polished rice," it added.
North Korea has faced years of chronic food shortages and was hit by a severe famine in the mid-1990s that left some 2 million people -- or about one-tenth of the country's population -- dead, according to U.S. and other intelligence services.
Once-generous international aid for the North has become sparse as the hard-line communist country has been dragging its feet on nuclear disarmament in negotiations with South Korea, the U.S. and other regional powers.
The WFP announced in December that North Korea will need more than 800,000 tons in additional food aid from abroad to feed its 22 million people in coming months despite a comparatively good harvest in 2008.
North Korean Leader Named for Parliamentary Eelections
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has been nominated for a parliamentary seat this week in multiple constituencies across the country ahead of next month's elections, a customary procedure to show he represents the entire population.
As of Feb. 4, Kim was appointed as a single candidate by 10 electorates beginning with the 333th constituency, according to the North's state media.
Voting for the North's rubber-stamp legislature is scheduled for March 8. Experts say Kim will select one constituency to run in for a parliamentary seat when the back-to-back rallies to acclaim him as a candidate are over.
The North's ruling Workers' Party would then draw up a list of candidates for other electorates. One candidate is nominated for each electorate. The current 687 delegates were picked in 2003, all with 100 percent "yes" votes.
The first rally to appoint Kim to run in the 333th voting district was held on Feb. 1 attended by top military leaders.
"The 12th parliamentary elections are a historic event that will give us an opportunity to make a turning point in our struggle to put up the doorplate of 'a powerful and prosperous nation' on our nation," the North's defense minster, Vice Marshal Kim Il-chol, was quoted by the report as saying during the meeting.
"We will come to show off to the whole world the power of our revolutionary unity and the superiority of our socialist system as we are firmly united around our supreme commander," the defense minister said.
Kim Jong-il was later acclaimed to be a candidate for voting districts numbers 383, 41, 118, 267, 485, 552 and 200 in such cities as Pyongyang, Wonsan, Haeju and Hamhung.
Experts forecast Kim is likely to select the constituency number 333 which appears to be a key military district.
Kim rules the country in his capacity as chairman of the National Defense Commission (NDC), a powerful independent organization that controls the North's 1.1-million-strong armed forces.
The leader represented different constituencies in previous elections -- 666th in 1998 and the 649th in 2003.
A new assembly usually confirms Kim's appointment as NDC chairman, which in turn leads to a reshuffle of the Cabinet and military, according to South Korean officials.
N. Korea Raising Money for World Cup Football Team
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is raising money at home and abroad to cover food, uniform and travel expenses for its national football team amid hopes of winning a berth to the 2010 World Cup, a report said on Feb. 3.
North Korea has "expectations that the country's athletes will earn more medals in international competitions this year," said Choson Sinbo, a Korean-language newspaper in Japan that usually conveys Pyongyang's position.
"The issue drawing the biggest attention is, as usual, the final qualifiers in the Asian region for the 2010 World Cup tournament in South Africa," it said.
North Korea's sports agency is now committed to a fundraising drive to cover the team's travel expenses, as well as to provide footballers with shoes, uniforms, medicine and nutritional support, the report said.
"For this, the Korea Sports Support Fund is calling for a number of organizations and dignitaries at home and abroad to join," it said.
The report quoted Ri Hye-gyong, 61, chief of the sports agency, as saying the fundraising campaign is "proceeding as planned."
Although football is a very popular sport in the socialist country, North Korea have not reached the main tournament since their surprise advance to the quarterfinals in the 1966 World Cup in Britain.
In the Group B qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup that start next week, North Korea are set to face Saudi Arabia, the Arab Emirates, South Korea and Iran. An inter-Korean match is set for April 1 in South Korea.
N. Korean Leader Sends New Year's Card to U.N. Chief
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has sent a New Year's greeting card to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, formerly a South Korean foreign minister, along with cards to the leaders of the North's allied nations, Pyongyang's official media said on Feb. 3.
The report did not identify the U.N. chief by name.
Ban was mentioned at the bottom of the long list of Kim's card recipients, which began with the presidents of China, Cuba and Russia and ended with Russian mayors and chiefs of North Korea-related committees abroad.
Since Ban took over as the U.N. secretary general in January 2007, North Korean media has stopped mentioning the name of the top U.N. official.
N. Korean Children to Get Peanut Candies on Leader's Birthday
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Children in Pyongyang will receive peanut candies as a gift on leader Kim Jong-il's birthday, following the recent completion of a production line in the North Korean capital, a report said on Feb. 3.
North Korea customarily hands out liquor, fruit or daily necessities for citizens and confectionery for children on the occasion of Kim's birthday, Feb. 16, and the birthday of his late father and the nation's founder Kim Il-sung, April 15.
The socialist tradition has reportedly waned since the country fell into deep economic woes in the mid-1990s.
Choson Sinbo, a Korean language newspaper in Japan that usually echoes Pyongyang's policy, said peanut candies will be added to the gift list for children this year, following the completion of a production line in Pyongyang Vegetable-Processing Factory.
The foodstuff factory that produces noodle, bread and sweets was newly equipped with a peanut candy production facility at the end of last year as "a governmental measure to enhance the people's diet," the report said.
It said all of the ingredients are provided by the government.
Lee Seung-yong, a coordinator of Good Friends, a Seoul-based aid group for North Korea, said the cash-strapped North often has to collect ingredients from its citizens to make the gifts for them.
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