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(2nd LD) N.K. declares 3-day mourning over ex-Cuban leader Castro's death

All Headlines 16:28 November 28, 2016

(ATTN: REWRITES lead; ADDS more details throughout)

SEOUL, Nov. 28 (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Monday began a three-day mourning period to pay tribute to former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Pyongyang's state media said, as it calls him the "close friend and comrade" of North Koreans.

The decision was made by the ruling party's central committee, the presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly and the Cabinet on Sunday, according to the Rodong Sinmun, the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK)'s official newspaper. They have decided to "hoist flags at half-mast at major organizations and designated places," for the Cuban revolutionary leader who died at age 90 on Friday.

(2nd LD) N.K. declares 3-day mourning over ex-Cuban leader Castro's death0

Its leader Kim Jong-un offered his "deep" condolences for Castro's death, calling him "the close friend and comrade" of North Koreans to strengthen the friendly relations between the two nations, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Sunday.

The KCNA said that a delegation led by Choe Ryong-hae, a vice chairman of the WPK's central committee, left for Havana on Monday to pay tribute to Castro.

North Korea and Cuba have long maintained close ties since they established their diplomatic relationship in 1960.

Castro visited the North in March 1986 at the invitation of late former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of the incumbent leader.

The KCNA said Monday that Castro met with the North's founder and his son Kim Jong-il during the visit. It reported both nations agreed to "deepen the militant friendship and friendly and cooperative relations" in their anti-U.S. and anti-imperialist struggles.

Castro ruled Cuba for more than five decades, before handing over his power to younger brother Raul Castro in 2008 due to health problems.

Havana has recently improved relations with Washington. They agreed in December 2014 to normalize their diplomatic ties which were severed in 1961. South Korea is seeking to establish diplomatic ties with Cuba.

Experts said that North Korea's declaration of the mourning period appears aimed at showing off its close ties with Cuba. But they added that the two countries' relationship may not be as good as it used to be as the first generation of revolutionary leaders have passed away.

"The North seems to intend to show its will to stick to the socialist ideology at home and abroad," said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute.

He said that after Castro's death, Cuba will likely move to establish a diplomatic relationship with South Korea.

"Pyongyang also appears to have sent the high-ranking official Choe in a bid to curb Seoul's move as it seeks to highlight its traditional ties with Cuba," Cheong said.

North Korea is seeking to maintain its relations with Cuba at a time when it struggles with deepening international isolation amid tougher sanctions imposed due to its nuclear and missile programs.

Cuba is one of a handful of countries with friendly ties with North Korea.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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