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Page last updated at 03:53 GMT, Tuesday, 29 September 2009 04:53 UK

N Korea constitution bolsters Kim

By Jill McGivering
BBC News

Kim Jong-il, left, walks with father Kim Il-sung in Pyongyang in April 1982
Kim Jong-il, left, "inherited" power from his father Kim Il-sung

South Korea's news agency has published excerpts from North Korea's amended constitution.

It seems to bolster the position of leader Kim Jong-il amid speculation about his health and growing pressure about the North's nuclear programme.

The constitution was changed in April this year but this is the first time its wording has been seen outside the country.

Political change and shifts in power inside North Korea are guarded secrets.

So it has taken months for details to emerge in the South about changes to the country's constitution.

There is particular interest in the terms used to describe Kim Jong-il, amid months of speculation about his health and possible successor.

For the first time, the constitution refers to him implicitly as "supreme leader".

'Respect'

It also endorses the role of the National Defence Commission - which he chairs - in national and foreign affairs.

And it places more weight on Kim's personal doctrine of "military first".

So as well as strengthening Kim Jong-il's position, the changes could also be designed to boost the status of military.

There has been speculation too about the decision to change the wording about the rights of citizens.

The new constitution says the country "respects" its citizens' human rights, as well as protecting them.

This may be an attempt to show concern about human rights in the face of international condemnation about its rights record.

All this comes as China's premier Wen Jia-bao prepares to visit North Korea next week.

It is part of growing efforts to persuade Pyongyang to rejoin multilateral talks on its nuclear programme.

There have been signs of a softening of the North's usually harsh rhetoric.

But it is still unclear if Pyongyang will accept a return to the six party talks framework - or press for an alternative.



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