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Saturday, September 5, 1998 Published at 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Kim misses out on presidency again

Kim Jong-Il, seen here with his late father Kim Il-Sung, is a shy character

North Korea has confirmed Kim Jong-Il as the country's paramount leader while denying him the presidency.

North Korea expert Aidan Foster-Carter: "rocket is a kind of coronation firework"
The post of president has been vacant since the death four years ago of Kim Jong-Il's father, President Kim Il-Sung.

BBC Beijing correspondent James Miles says there are indications the post could be abolished.

Mr Kim's appointment as head of the North Korean military was announced by the Supreme People's Assembly, which has convened for the first time in four years.

The assembly also announced the promotion of deputy prime minister Hong Song-Nam to the post of prime minister, replacing Kang Song-San, who has fallen ill.

'Unlikely to be any shift in policy'

Our correspondent says the changes are unlikely to lead to any significant change in the policy of the isolated communist state.

Pyongyang radio said on Saturday Kim's re-election as head of the army showed the will of North Koreans to smash the "challenges of imperialists and reactionaries", terms usually applied to South Korea, Japan and the US.

The assembly comes just days after North Korea launched a satellite into orbit. Early reports suggested Pyongyang had test-fired a new missile over Japanese territory.

Japan cancelled food aid

Japan objected strongly to the rocket launch and cancelled all food aid and flights to North Korea.

Tokyo also withdrew from an agreement to finance nuclear reactors, part of a deal which the United States and North Korea are still negotiating in New York.

Next Wednesday the Stalinist state will celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Along with Cuba, North Korea is one of the last remaining bastions of communism but its economy is in disarray and it has been forced to rely on foreign aid to feed its starving populace.

Kim Jong-Il took over the reins of power in 1994 in the wake of the death of his father, Kim Il-Sung.

But he is a shy and retiring character who is rarely seen in public and has struggled to find a way out from under his late father's shadow.

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