Mass rally in North Korea after congress bolsters leader

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans celebrated the country’s newly completed ruling-party congress Tuesday with a massive civilian parade featuring floats bearing patriotic slogans and marchers with flags and pompoms.

Leader Kim Jong Un presided over the parade and waved to the crowd. The four-day congress completed Monday was the authoritarian country’s first since 1980, before Kim was even born. The rubberstamp body of more than 3,400 delegates endorsed his nuclear and economic policies, promoted his favored officials and gave him a new title of party chairman.

By calling a congress — something his father, Kim Jong Il, never did — Kim demonstrated what may be a leadership style more like that of his charismatic grandfather, national founder Kim Il Sung. Kim Il Sung worked through party organs more than Kim Jong Il, who preferred using his own network of trusted individuals to get things done.

The congress touted Kim’s successes on the nuclear front and promised economic improvements to boost the nation’s standard of living, despite the increasing weight of international sanctions over the North’s development of nuclear weapons.

Mostly, however, the congress put Kim front and center in the eyes of the people and the party as the country’s sole leader.

His new title of chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea was announced during the roughly 10 minutes that a small group of foreign media, including The Associated Press, was allowed to watch the congress Monday in the ornate April 25 House of Culture. It was the only time any of the more than 100 foreign journalists invited were allowed to view the proceedings.

As a military band in full uniform played the welcoming song used whenever North Korea’s leader enters a public place, Kim confidently strode onto the stage, generating a long, loud standing ovation from the several thousand delegates attending.

In unison the delegates shouted, “Mansae! Mansae!” wishing Kim long life.

He and other senior party members took their seats, filling several rows on a stage, below portraits of Kim Il Sung and father Kim Jong Il, the walls decked with banners of red with the ruling party’s hammer sickle and pen logo embossed in gold.

Kim Yong Nam, the head of North Korea’s parliament, stood to read a roster of top party positions — calling Kim Jong Un chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea for the first time.

Kim had already been head of the party, but with the title of first secretary.

His predecessors keep their posthumous titles. Kim Jong Il remains “eternal general secretary” and Kim Il Sung is still “eternal president.”

Officially bringing more people into his inner circle, Kim filled two vacancies on the powerful Presidium of the party’s central committee. Senior party official Choe Ryong Hae regained a seat that he had lost; once considered Kim Jong Un’s No. 2, he is believed to have been briefly banished to a rural collective farm last year for re-education.

Premier Pak Pong Ju was also named to the Presidium. Other members are Kim Jong Un himself; Kim Yong Nam, who as parliament leader is the country’s nominal head of state; and Hwang Pyong So, the top political officer of the Korean People’s Army. Kim Yong Nam, 88, stayed on despite speculation from North Korea-watchers that he might lose his position because of his age.

Only about 30 of the more than 100 invited journalists were allowed into the congress Monday. Before that, the only window any of them had on the proceedings was through the lens of state media. North Korean officials kept foreign media busy with largely with trips around Pyongyang to show them places the government wanted them to see.

North Korea on Monday expelled BBC correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, who was not among the journalists covering the congress. He had covered an earlier trip of Nobel laureates and had been scheduled to leave Friday. Instead, he was stopped at the airport, detained and questioned.

O Ryong Il, secretary-general of the North’s National Peace Committee, said the journalist’s news coverage distorted facts and “spoke ill of the system and the leadership of the country.” He said Wingfield-Hayes wrote an apology, was expelled Monday and would never be admitted into the country again.

Wingfield-Hayes, producer Maria Byrne and cameraman Matthew Goddard were detained Friday and left Monday on a flight to Beijing.

“We are very disappointed that our reporter Rupert Wingfield-Hayes and his team have been deported from North Korea after the government took offence at material he had filed,” the BBC said in a statement. “Four BBC staff, who were invited to cover the Workers Party Congress, remain in North Korea and we expect them to be allowed to continue their reporting.” The BBC was among the media organizations allowed into the congress Monday.

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