*** NEWS IN BRIEF (Part 1)
Non-smoker Kim Jong-il Takes Puff in Cigarette Factory
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Photos released by North Korea's state-run media on Feb. 25 of leader Kim Jong-il smoking a cigarette raised eyebrows in Seoul over whether the aging leader has begun smoking again.
Kim, believed to have quit smoking years ago on his doctors' advice, is shown in two photos released by the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) taking a puff while touring a northwestern cigarette factory.
With one glove off, Kim takes a pull on a cigarette while accompanying officials watch with bemused smiles.
In the other photo, he exhales smoke while apparently giving a word to officials, which one of them writes down in a notepad.
Sporting his trademark sunglasses, a silver parka, silver gloves and a brown fur hat, Kim was visiting the Hoeryong Taesong Cigarette Factory, whose products are supplied to soldiers in the region.
The factory is located in the northwestern town of Hoeryong in North Hamgyong Province.
The 67-year-old Kim, formerly a big fan of Dunhill cigarettes, reportedly quit smoking before he turned 60 because his doctors were concerned about his record of diabetes and heart disease. His decision led to a nationwide non-smoking campaign using such extreme slogans as "Cigarettes are like guns aimed at your heart."
After accompanying Chinese President Jiang Zemin to a summit with Kim in 2000, China's then foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan said, "Chairman Kim used to drink and smoke a lot, but he has now quit smoking and drinks wine only a little."
Seoul officials believe Kim has not begun smoking again, saying instead he was just being meticulous in checking the production quality of the cigarette factory. Kim suffered a stroke last August and is now believed to have considerably recovered.
"He may be getting the taste of it," Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun said.
The KCNA said Kim "expressed great satisfaction over the fact that... quality cigarettes are mass-produced" and called on the factory to "keep the cigarette production going at a high rate and further improve quality."
Kim was visiting industrial facilities in North Hamgyong Province, where rocket launch preparations are underway. The ministry spokesman said Kim makes a nationwide tour at the beginning of every year.
N.K. Emphasizes Role of 'Agitators' in Building Kangsong Taeguk
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea recently asked "agitators" to play a bigger role in the national drive to "open the door of a Kangsong Taeguk (a great, prosperous and powerful nations)" by 2012.
The North made the announcement in a two-day national meeting from Feb. 26 in Pyongyang of agitation officials mainly working for the communist party, social groups, factories, information and various other economic fields.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the meeting, Choe Thae-bok, secretary of the Workers' Party, underscored "the need for agitators and information workers to dynamically conduct the agitation in the all-people general advance for adorning the 100th Juche year of Kim Il-sung's (North) Korea with the great victory of (North) Korean-style socialism," according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
This year, the North restored a postwar economic campaign with the goal of constructing an economic power by that year, marking the centenary of late leader Kim Il-sung's birth.
The Workers' Party Central Committee also emphasized in a congratulatory message that all participants should become "ideological standard-bearers" in building a Kangsong Taeguk while powerfully encouraging party members and workers to bring about signal innovations and a great leap forward unprecedented in the history of the country, the KCNA said.
Read by Kim Yong-nam, the North's No. 2 leader who serves as president of the Supreme People's Assembly Presidium, the message demanded that people strengthen agitation work, particularly in the economic field, and bar capitalist ideology and culture from infiltrating into the socialist society.
Other ranking officials who attended the meeting, the fourth of its kind, were Kim Jung-rin and Kim Ki-nam, both party secretaries.
N.K. Marks Independence Movement Day by Threatening Neighbors
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea renewed military threats against South Korea, the United States and Japan on March 1 as it marked the anniversary of Korea's 1919 independence movement against Japan's colonial occupation in a rare ceremony.
The North threatened "merciless punishment" and "a high price" for hostile policies allegedly pursued by the three countries against the socialist neighbor in the meeting in Pyongyang held to commemorate the anniversary for the first time in a decade.
Inter-Korean relations fell to their lowest level after South Korea's conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office about a year ago with a firmer stance on Pyongyang. In anger over Lee's hard-line policy, the North threatened to take an "all-out confrontational posture" against the South and scrap all political and military agreements between the two sides.
"The army and people of the DPRK (North Korea) will never tolerate the treachery of the South Korean conservative authorities hell-bent on escalating confrontation with fellow countrymen in collusion with outsiders in utter disregard of the destiny of the country and the nation, but mercilessly punish the group," Yang Hyong-sop, vice president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, was quoted by the North's official Korean Central News Agency as saying in the ceremony.
He also said the U.S. should immediately stop its "anachronistic anti-DPRK racket and reckless moves for a war of aggression against the DPRK," as well as stop hindering peace and reunification and withdraw its troops from South Korea.
"If the U.S. warlike forces opt for reckless military confrontation and provocation of a war of aggression against the DPRK, defying the repeated warnings issued by it and its principled stand, the latter will mercilessly stamp out aggressors with powerful Songun (military-first) arms which know neither mercy nor forgiveness, and achieve the historic cause of national reunification," Yang warned.
In addition, he threatened that Japan will be forced to pay "a high price" unless it drops its hostile policy against the North and the pro-Pyongyang Korean group in Japan.
Flurry of Activity by Kim Jong-il in Northern City of Manpho
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, recovering from a stroke he suffered last year, visited the country's northern city of Manpho where he provided field guidance at various places, from a tire factory to a restaurant, the North's state media reported on March 1.
The trip began with a visit to a smeltery in the city just south of the North Korea-China border, according to the report by the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
"He (Kim) repeatedly made a high appreciation of the achievements of the officials, workers and technicians of the smelter, saying that they have done a lot of work in all aspects including supply service and the creation of a hygienic and cultured environment, to say nothing of production, in a few years," it said.
The report did not provide any specific details of the trip, including when it was taken or how long it lasted.
Unlike his other trips where he usually inspects only one or two places, the visit to Manpho, Jagang Province, included stops in at least three other places, according to the KCNA report.
Kim's next stop was made at a tire factory where he met with two workers, whom he had met during his last visit there 11 years ago.
"(Kim) highly praised them for such patriotic devotion as having worked with all their wisdom and enthusiasm for the prosperity of the country for decades," it said.
"He called on the workers of the mill to creditably fulfill their duty and thus contribute to the building of a rich and powerful nation and indicated the tasks and ways to do so," said the report.
His next stop came at a restaurant where he was quoted as saying, "Nothing is more honorable and worthwhile than to serve the people."
The report said the North Korean leader was accompanied by Pak To-chun, chief secretary of the Jagang Provincial Committee of the Workers' Party, and Kim Ki-nam, secretary of the Central Committee of the party.
N. Koreans Work to Make Country Green on Tree-planting Day
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean workers and students rolled up their sleeves on March 2 for Tree-planting Day, state-run media said, amid continuing aid from South Korea despite damaged political relations.
North Korea has a high deforestation rate, as residents have cut down trees for fuel. Deforestation is closely linked to the country's chronic food shortages, as barren mountain slopes leave rice farms prone to severe flooding by summer monsoons, according to aid workers in Seoul.
The North Korean government has banned cutting trees and sought to make its country greener with aid from South Korea and some European governments.
"Covered with trees are mountains and fields of the country from the foot of Mt. Paektu, the sacred mountain of the revolution, to the military demarcation line and from the eastern coast to the western coast," the (North) Korean Central News Agency said in an English-language report titled "Greening and Gardening Campaign Gets Brisk."
"The tree-planting campaign is being briskly undertaken everywhere in the country ... changing the appearance of the country beyond recognition day by day," it said.
South Korean government and civic groups have been operating sapling fields in the North Korean cities of Kaesong and Pyongyang, as well as near the North's scenic resort Mt. Kumgang, providing seedlings, equipment and technology since 1999. The project has cost South Korea some 9 billion won (US$5.7 million), according to the Ministry of Unification.
Aid workers said the inter-Korean forestry project has continued even though Pyongyang cut off all government-level dialogue in response to Seoul's hardline policy toward it that began last year.
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