Kim Jong-il birthday: North watches tributes, South sends propaganda balloons
Kim Jong-il’s different birthday celebrations in North and South Korea dramatize current tensions. For the first time the South's President Lee openly supported groups lofting balloons northward with leaflets bearing insulting messages.
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“North Koreans are beginning to learn about Egypt,” says Kim Beo-tai, representing the media organization Reporters Without Borders in South Korea. “They talk with Chinese across the border on cellphones, and they return from trips across the border with news.”Skip to next paragraph
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Discontent, he believes, is rising during the coldest winter in North Korea in recent years. No one, however, believes North Koreans are in any position to protest openly.
“The people we contact say protest and the fall of the regime is impossible in North Korea,” says Ha Tae-keung, whose Open Radio for North Korea gleans news from informants by cell phone and broadcasts by short wave into the North. “They don’t see any chances of success in protesting.”
North Koreans are enduring a winter of discontent exacerbated by total lack of electricity for home heating or lighting. In Pyongyang, says Mr. Ha, electrical power is a luxury that few are qualified to receive. Residents have battled the sub-zero cold, he says, by draping vinyl over windows and doors.
Along with news about Egypt are photos of Kim Jong-il quaffing a glass of wine and of the faces of his oldest, Kim Jong-nam, and youngest, Kim Jong-un, in line to succeed his father as North Korea’s leader, the headline reads, “Republic of Fat.”
“They’re sick because they ate too much,” says the caption under the pictures. Opposite those are pictures of emaciated children and a young woman whose body was discovered in a field after she starved to death. “This woman is picking clover not for a rabbit but for herself,” the caption says.
The government also is reportedly unable to distribute extra rice and small gifts normally handed out on Kim Jong-il’s birthday, but there’s somehow enough power to turn on festive lanterns.
One problem protester for South Korea
At the balloon launch, South Korean police did encounter one problem in the form of a loud and lengthy harangue from a North Korean defector, Park Sang-hak, who also has launched balloons into North Korea.
“Why did you ask us to stop sending leaflets over North Korea three years ago,” he shouted at members of the National Assembly who were here to watch the launch. “Why are you sending balloons now, and you didn’t do it then?”
The answer, explains Park Jin-keol, an official with the Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights, is that the government did not want to offend the North Koreans. “The atmosphere is different,” says Mr. Park, citing the shift in mood North Korean forces shelled an island in the Yellow Sea in November and sank a South Korean navy ship last March.
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