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N. Korea Celebrates Leader’s Birthday • Saturday February 15, 2003

AP, Feb. 15, 2003
By SANG-HUN CHOE, Associated Press Writer

SEOUL, South Korea (AP)–North Koreans on Saturday celebrated leader Kim Jong Il’s upcoming birthday with vows to defend him at a time of “stern and harsh hardship”–a reference to the dispute over the country’s nuclear weapons program.

Kim, who rules his country with a personality cult, turns 61 on Sunday. On the eve of his birthday, senior party and military officials gathered in Pyongyang in an annual “national meeting” to renew their loyalty.

Streets and buildings in Pyongyang were “bedecked with posters, large pictures, electric lights, flags of the Workers’ Party of Korea and red flags,” said the North’s official news agency, KCNA. Fireworks burst in the sky over Kim’s purported birth place near the border with China.

“A stern and harsh hardship is blocking our way to revolution,” Jon Pyong Ho, a politburo member, told the Pyongyang meeting. “If imperialists ever try to pick a fight with us, we will wipe them away with an uncontrollable strike and ruthlessly demolish their headquarters.”

Jon’s comments were carried by Pyongyang’s Central Radio, which was monitored by the South Korean news agency Yonhap.

He did not mention the standoff over the reclusive state’s nuclear weapons program. Earlier this week, the U.N. nuclear agency referred the issue to the Security Council.

The Security Council could consider economic sanctions against the North, which depends on outside aid to feed its hunger-stricken 22 million people.

The North Korean news agency brimmed with eulogies for Kim.

“For scores of years, Kim Jong Il indicated the way ahead … with his rare clairvoyance, ushered in a heyday of the socialist homeland,” KCNA said.

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