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(2ND LEAD) N.K. to hold key parliamentary meeting this week

All Headlines 23:14 April 10, 2017

(ATTN: ADDS more details in para 4-5; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, April 10 (Yonhap) -- North Korea plans to hold its key parliamentary meeting this week amid attention over whether its leader Kim Jong-un will deliver a message targeting the United States, experts said Monday.

The Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) will hold the fifth session of the country's 13th assembly Tuesday, the first parliamentary meeting since Kim was elected the head of a new state body last year.

North Korea's state media reported that deputies including ceremonial leader Kim Yong-nam made their bow to the statues of late founder Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il ahead of the session.

Also among the party members was Kim Yo-jong, Kim's only younger sister. It was her first public appearance in nine months. In a black dress and holding a bouquet of flowers, she stood in the second row of people who paid respect to her late grandfather and father.

She was last seen in the public eye on June 29, 2016, when she attended the fourth session of the 13th assembly. Due to her long absence, there had been rumors that she might be ill or expecting a baby.

Kim Yo-jong, highlighted with a red circle, walks to pay her respects to North Korea's late founder Kim Il-sung, her grandfather, and Kim Jong-il, her father, on April 10, 2017, a day before the opening of the fifth session of the country's 13th Supreme People's Assembly (SPA). (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

The SPA, the country's legislative body, is the highest organ of state power under the North's constitution, but it actually rubber-stamps decisions by more powerful organizations, such as the ruling Workers' Party of Korea (WPK).

Since Kim assumed power in late 2011, he has attended the SPA on five occasions out of seven parliamentary sessions held under his leadership.

Every April, the SPA holds a plenary session, attended by hundreds of deputies, to finalize the country's budget spending and overhaul cabinet organs. But the North's parliament held a smaller meeting led by its presidium in March last year ahead of the WPK's party congress held in May.

The North's last parliamentary meeting was held in June 2016, when the North's ruler was elected as the chairman of the newly created State Affairs Commission (SAC), which replaced the National Defense Commission.

South Korea's unification ministry said that there is a small possibility that North Korea would send an external message on the occasion of the SPA.

"At the parliamentary meetings, North Korea mainly discusses internal policies. There seems to be a relatively small chance that (the North's leader) would deliver a message targeting the external world," Lee Duk-haeng, ministry spokesman, told a regular press briefing.

The parliamentary meeting comes amid growing speculation that North Korea may carry out its sixth nuclear test or launch a long-range rocket launch this month.

U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster told Fox News that President Donald Trump has ordered him to prepare "a full range of options" to nuclear and missile threats North Korea poses to Washington and its allies.

North Korea is expected to fill its spy chief vacancy left by the dismissal of Kim Won-hong earlier this year during the upcoming assembly, experts said.

Jo Yong-won, a senior official at the WPK, is highly likely to become the minister of state security at Tuesday's meeting, according to Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute.

In April, North Korea plans to mark two key anniversaries -- the 105th birthday of Kim Il-sung, which falls on April 15, and the 85th anniversary of the creation of the Korean People's Army on April 25.

This image captured from footage on North Korea's state-run TV broadcaster on June 29, 2016, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attending a meeting of the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), the country's parliament. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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