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North Koreans vow loyalty to regime

07:30 Sun Apr 15 2012
AAP
A huge crowd has gathered in a Pyongyang stadium to express support for the North Korean regime, a day after an embarrassing rocket launch failure
A huge crowd has gathered in a Pyongyang stadium to express support for the North Korean regime, a day after an embarrassing rocket launch failure (Getty)

Tens of thousands of people have gathered in a football stadium to shout support for North Korea's ruling dynasty, a day after a failed rocket launch seen as a major embarrassment for the regime.

Under bright spring sunshine, bemedalled soldiers, women in colourful hanbok gowns and men in dark suits and ties packed Kim Il-Sung stadium on Saturday to hear fulsome praise for the family that has ruled since the nation's founding in 1948.

"Let's safeguard Kim Jong-Un with our lives!" they shouted after a lengthy and passionate speech from ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-Nam.

Current leader Kim Jong-Un, who was present but did not speak, sat under a giant portrait of his grandfather and founding president Kim Il-Sung.

The crowd filled the stadium as well as rows of seats covering the artificial grass pitch. An official explained that Saturdays in the tightly regimented nation are "political activity day" while Sundays are a holiday.

Celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the founder's birth on April 15 are designed to build loyalty to the dynasty and bolster the authority of the young leader, who took over when his father Kim Jong-Il died last December.

But several analysts see the launch flop as a damaging setback.

"Inviting many foreign media, North Korea has become an object of public ridicule in the world," Masao Okonogi of Tokyo's Keio University told IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.

The North invited about 150 journalists to witness preparations for what it called a satellite launch and the anniversary celebrations.

But there has been only a brief mention of the failure of the launch, which was seen by the United States and its allies as a disguised ballistic missile test.

One woman interviewed by AFP at the stadium through an official guide said she had not known of the failure. Two other people said their country would succeed soon in putting a satellite into orbit.

"Failure is the mother of success," said Jong Dae-Chol, a commerce ministry deputy director. Kim Tae-Sung, an officer in the 1.2 million-strong military, used the same phrase.

As for the new leader, "he is a really caring person", said Kim Yong-Suk.

"I'm convinced our future will be bright and we will become a powerful and prosperous nation," she said, referring to the regime's stated goal by 2012.

In reality, "the North Korean economy today is characterised by macroeconomic instability, widening inequality and growing corruption," said Marcus Noland, of the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Outside observers, he wrote in an op-ed piece, believe per capita income today is lower than it was 20 years ago, partly because of a disastrous currency reform in November 2009.

Severe food shortages have persisted since a famine in the 1990s but the rocket launch has cost the North 240,000 tonnes of US food aid.

After a visit last autumn, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos reported "terrible levels" of malnutrition, especially among children.