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Friday, 6 May 2016

North Korea puts on once-in-a-generation political event

(CNN)North Korea, one of the world's most secretive nations, is putting on its biggest political event in 36 years.
The 7th Congress of Workers' Party began Friday in Pyongyang, the nation's capital and biggest city.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the event will "lay out the brilliant blueprint that will advance the final victory of our revolution," according to the state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun.
But the secrecy surrounding the event continues, even with the presence of more than 100 international media outlets.
About 3,000 party members have poured in for this once-in-a-generation political gathering, officials tell CNN.
The congress will be held at a convention center called April 25 House of Culture. While the building also hosted the previous party congress in 1980, it was not officially announced as this year's venue until the day before the gathering.
There will be plenty of spectacle as thousands of costumed North Koreans will parade and perform choreography in this scrubbed-down metropolis.
Political pronouncements are likely, though nobody is sure what Kim has in mind.
The meeting, which was initially reported in October, is being convened to reflect "the demand of the party and the developing revolution," the official state Korean Central News Agency reports.

What will Kim do?

There is speculation Kim could move away from his father's "military first" ideology and reinforce his own brand of simultaneous nuclear and economic development.
The congress is also likely to see Kim announce the continuation of North Korea's nuclear weapons program. That, along with military intelligence, is a major reason why many South Korean and U.S. government officials believe a fifth nuclear test could happen at some point during the congress.
Kim ordered what was claimed to be a hydrogen bomb test on the same week of his birthday in January. It was followed a month later by a satellite launch, which led the United States and its allies to push for a new round of strong sanctions aimed at halting the regime's nuclear and missile programs.
Those sanctions have made it difficult to improve the North Korean economy, another major issue facing Kim.
"The goal of this congress is really to consolidate Kim's hold on power," said Mike Chinoy, author of "Meltdown: The inside story of the North Korean nuclear crisis."
"During the rule of Kim Jong Il the focus was very much on 'military first,' the armed forces had even more influence than before. Kim Jong Un has been shifting power back to the ruling Korean Workers' Party."
Doing so, along with continued nuclear tests, may enable Kim to reduce the amount resources spent maintaining a traditional army, Chinoy said.

Last congress in 1980

Kim's birth date is unknown, but he's thought to be in his early 30s, meaning he wasn't even alive when the last congress was held in 1980.
At that time, his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, North Korea's founder and president, elevated his son Kim Jong Il to No. 2 in the party, solidifying his position as successor. Kim Jong II took power in 1994 when his father died and never held a congress.
He died in December 2011, and his son took command of the military.
The new congress has involved much more than politicians.
To prepare for visitors, thousands of regular North Koreans have engaged in a "70-day Battle" to clean up Pyongyang. They have hung banners, swept sidewalks and planted flowers ahead of the event.
Student bands even played patriotic tunes to lift the spirits of citizens and encourage them to work harder to make their capital look its best.
According to state TV, the campaign concluded with "144% achievement," with Rodong Sinmun adding that it had united the people around Kim in a way that "cannot be reversed by any enemy."

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