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Saturday, 16 February, 2002, 12:57 GMT
North Korea marks leader's birthday
Pyongyang rally for Kim Jong-il's birthday
The festivities are on a grand scale
North Korea has staged lavish celebrations to mark the 60th birthday of its leader, Kim Jong-il.

The capital Pyongyang put on a mass gymnastics display on Saturday involving about 10,000 young people.

Parades, rallies and concerts were also held, and Kim Jong-il's name was carved in letters 34 metres high into a cliff at Mount Kumgang, just north of the demilitarised zone.

The celebrations took place despite North Korea's serious economic difficulties, with up to a third of the population dependent on international food aid.

Personality cult

Kim came to power in 1994 after the death of his father, Kim Il-sung, and a huge cult of personality has been built up around them.
Panmunjom border post
Even the border posts are decked out for the occasion

Their birthdays are regarded as North Korea's most important national holidays - and a 60th birthday is regarded as an important milestone in East Asia, marking the renewal of the calendar cycle.

Live pictures of birthday events were broadcast on state television and newspapers gave wide coverage to tributes to Kim.

Reuters news agency said that at a celebratory concert, children danced and performed acrobatics to martial music under a huge screen that mixed images of gunfire with a picture of a smiling Kim in military uniform.

But despite all the razzamatazz, there were no reports of Kim Jong-il appearing in public on Saturday.
Kim Jong-il
Kim's birthday marks an important milestone in the region

Until two years ago he remained one of the world's most reclusive leaders - rarely seen, let alone heard in public.

That changed when he held a historic summit with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, and hosted a visit by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Festivities overshadowed

Correspondents say Kim Jong-il's years in power so far have coincided with precipitous economic decline and starvation, brought on by natural disasters and mismanagement of the state-controlled economy.

And the festive mood is overshadowed by President Bush's comments branding North Korea part of an axis of evil, supporting terrorism and producing weapons of mass destruction.

North Korea has condemned the speech, saying it increases the risk of war on the Korean peninsula.

The BBC's Caroline Gluck
"A huge cult of personality has been built up"
See also:

27 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea offers amnesty
06 Aug 01 | Europe
Kim Jong-il's Russian odyssey
25 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Kim takes slow route to Moscow
06 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Eyewitness: Christianity in North Korea
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