Love, not war, and mystery in Pyongyang

Tue Nov 4, 2008 7:39pm EST
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By Yoo Choonsik

PYONGYANG (Reuters) - Gone are the signs extolling nuclear weapons and readiness for war. These days, the slogans in North Korea's capital have turned to cuddlier exhortations such as "Let's love our leader more!."

There is also, suddenly, money.

Cranes are at work on construction sites, roads are newly paved and buildings freshly painted. Street lights illuminate a city that used to fall into darkness after sunset.

Even locals in the secretive state, which human rights groups say has put tens of thousands of political prisoners in jail, look more relaxed and are, for one of the world's poorest societies, relatively fashionably dressed.

Where does the money come from in a country that by one count has a per capita income of no more than $400 a year and is constantly on the verge of plunging back into famine?

"I believe you know how very well," Han, an official assigned to guide a recent group of South Korean visitors, said with an enigmatic smile that made clear he was not inclined to go into detail.

But Han, who gave only his family name, did acknowledge that North Korea would benefit from last month's move by the United States to remove it from the list of states that sponsor terrorism, a position that had made it all but untouchable in the world of international commerce.

"The removal from the list will help ... because many countries had complained about troubles in doing business with us because of the sanctions," he added.   Continued...

<p>The Tower of the Juche Idea is seen in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang in this October 26, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak/Files</p>