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Friday, 6 May 2016

Foreign media left in the cold as North Korean congress starts

North Korea is staging the first full congress of its ruling party for nearly 40 years. But foreign journalists invited to attend have had to practice patience. 
Thousands of delegates from across the communist nation gathered in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, on Friday for what has been billed as the North's most important political show in decades.
The country's leader, 33-year-old Kim Jong-Un, was expected to deliver a keynote address at the gathering, the first since a 1980 congress that saw his father, Kim Jong-Il, in his turn the son of North Korea's founding leader, Kim Il-Sung, designated as heir apparent.
North Korea's information committee said the congress began on Friday morning. But more than 100 foreign journalists invited to cover the event were not immediately allowed inside the venue, the April 25 House of Culture. After being made to wait outside for more than an hour, they were taken back to their hotels.
State television also provided no live coverage of the congress, whose agenda and duration remain unknown.
'Nuclear prestige'
However, observers say the main aim of the meeting is to cement Kim Jong-un's absolute rule as legitimate inheritor of the Kim family legacy, and to showcase the country's status as a nuclear power in face of international disapproval that has taken tangible form in heavy sanctions.
The UN has imposed its toughest penalties in 20 years following the country's fourth nuclear test, which was carried out in January, and a rocket launch that followed soon after.
Ahead of the event, state media hailed the most recent nuclear test as proof of the North's "greatness and prestige as a nuclear power state."
The North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, in its turn, vigorously criticized the international community for objecting to Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.
"Regardless of whether someone recognizes it or not, our status as a nuclear state that is armed with H-bombs cannot change," it said in a statement.
The congress is likely to see Kim Jong Un's dual policy - known as "byungjin" - of developing North Korea's nuclear weapons capacity in tandem with its domestic economy enshrined as formal party doctrine.
There has been some speculation as to whether the North might carry out another nuclear test during the congress. However, the US-Korea Institute at the US Johns Hopkins University said on Thursday it was not possible to say either way if an underground test was imminent, basing its opinion on analysis of recent satellite pictures of the test site at Punggye-ri.
tj/msh (AP, AFP)

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