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(2nd LD) N. Korea kicks off rare party congress with leader's opening address

All News 08:25 January 06, 2021

(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 9-10, 14-15, at bottom, photo)
By Choi Soo-hyang

SEOUL, Jan. 6 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has opened its first party congress in nearly five years, state media said Wednesday, amid expectations it will unveil its policy directions on economic development and foreign affairs for the next few years.

Leader Kim Jong-un delivered an opening speech for the eighth congress of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang on Tuesday, admitting a failure to meet its previous five-year economic development plan and calling for self-reliance in boosting the country's strength, according to the Korean Central News Agency.

"The five-year economic development strategy period wrapped up last year, but the results in most areas fell extremely short of our goals," Kim said in the opening speech.

Referring to "external and internal" challenges that hinder the country's development, Kim said boosting its own strength is "the most certain and the most fast" way to overcome the difficulties it is facing.

The North Korean leader also said he will suggest "the key line of struggle and strategic and tactical policies" for "the cause of national reunification, promoting external relations and strengthening the work of the Party" during the congress.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks during the eighth congress of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang on Jan. 5, 2021, in this photo provided by the Korean Central News Agency the next day. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

The session has drawn keen attention from the outside world as the North is expected to unveil a fresh economic development plan and a new foreign policy line on the United States and South Korea ahead of Joe Biden's inauguration as the next U.S. president on Jan. 20.

It is the second party congress under the current leader, who assumed power in late 2011 following the death of his father Kim Jong-il.

The previous congress was held in 2016 during which the North announced its five-year economic development plan that ended last year and declared the "byongjin" policy of simultaneously seeking nuclear weapons and economic advance.

Kim has held three meetings with U.S. President Donald Trump, but denuclearization talks have made little progress since their no-deal summit in Hanoi in 2019.

Eyes are also on whether Kim's powerful sister, Kim Yo-jong, will be promoted to a higher position in the Worker's Party during the session.

The North has not made public the exact schedule for the party meeting, but it could last multiple days given that the previous congress was held for four days.

North Korea holds the eighth congress of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang on Jan. 5, 2021, in this photo provided by the Korean Central News Agency the next day. Seen in the center is the North's leader Kim Jong-un. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

This week's event comes as North Korea has been faced with a triple whammy of the fallout of summertime back-to-back typhoons, a protracted border closure due to the coronavirus pandemic and global sanctions on its economy.

At the congress, 250 members of the party's leadership, 4,750 delegates and 2,000 observers participated, an increase from the previous session despite the coronavirus pandemic.

In photos released by state media, the event venue was seen packed with thousands of participants not wearing face masks.

North Korea claims there has not been a single COVID-19 case on its soil.

Kim said the country has strictly carried out antivirus measures despite the global health crisis.

Amid speculation over a possible military parade timed for the rare party meeting, U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Robert Abrams said Tuesday there hasn't been any signs of a major provocation as of now.

North Korea holds the eighth congress of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang on Jan. 5, 2021, in this photo provided by the Korean Central News Agency the next day. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

scaaet@yna.co.kr
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