North Korea holds massive New Year's rally

AP News
Posted: Jan 02, 2010 9:26 AM

Tens of thousands of North Koreans rallied in the capital Saturday to support the communist government's policies for the new year, including improved relations with the U.S. and South Korea and a higher standard of living.

The crowd braved chilly weather to pledge loyalty to leader Kim Jong Il as top officials applauded from a balcony overlooking Pyongyang's main square. Video from broadcaster APTN showed Kim did not attend the rally.

North Korea _ which does not tolerate any political opposition _ stages the annual rally to bolster public support for the government's New Year policies, announced in an editorial in major newspapers.

Pumping their fists into the air, about 100,000 people shouted "Let's implement it," referring to the policy goals, as they marched through the square with red flags.

Choe Yong Rim, a senior Pyongyang city official, called on citizens to "concentrate all efforts on improving the people's standard of living," the North's official Korean Central News Agency said.

In the New Year's editorial, impoverished North Korea called for the rapid development of agriculture and light industry and the production of higher-quality consumer goods.

It also urged an end to hostile relations with the U.S. and renewed its commitment to making the Korean peninsula nuclear-free through negotiations.

The North has long demanded that Washington end hostility toward its government and said it developed nuclear weapons to deter a U.S. attack. Washington has repeatedly said it has no intention of invading the country.

The editorial brightened prospects for a resumption of stalled international talks on ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. Washington has sought to coax the North to return to the talks, which also include South Korea, China, Russia and Japan.

North Korea quit the disarmament talks last year in anger over international criticism of a long-range rocket launch, which was denounced as a test of its missile technology. It then conducted a nuclear test, drawing widespread condemnation and tighter U.N. sanctions.

The traditional New Year's Day editorials, scrutinized by experts for clues to Pyongyang's policies, are the country's equivalent of the annual U.S. state of the union address.

The Tokyo-based Choson Sinbo newspaper, considered a mouthpiece for North Korea's government, suggested in a report late Friday that the two Koreas could hold summit talks this year, citing the North's strong commitment to enhance ties.

The two Koreas have held only two summits, in 2000 and 2007. Officials held secret talks in October in Singapore and two follow-up meetings in November at a North Korean border town to discuss possible negotiations between their leaders, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said last month, citing unidentified sources.