North Korea picks sacked PM as cabinet chief

Appointment of Pak Pong-ju, fired for failing to implement economic reforms, tightens ruling family's grip on power.

    Pak is a career technocrat who took the post of premier in 2003 to implement an ambitious economic reform policy [AFP]
    Pak is a career technocrat who took the post of premier in 2003 to implement an ambitious economic reform policy [AFP]

    North Korea has named former prime minister Pak Pong-ju, a key confidant of the leadership dynasty who was sacked in 2007 for failing to implement economic reforms, as its cabinet chief.

    Monday's appointment could further cement the ruling family's grip on power, news agencies reported.

    The state news agency KCNA said on Monday that Deputy Choe Yong-rim was recalled from the post of premier of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) cabinet and Deputy Pak Pong-ju was elected prime minister.

    Pak, believed to be in his 70s, is a key ally of Jang Song-thaek, the uncle of the isolated state's young ruler Kim
    Jong-un.

    He worked for Jang's wife, Kim's aunt Kyong-hui, the last remaining personal link to the state's revolutionary
    founder, Kim Il-sung, grandfather of the current leader.

    The move came as tensions ratcheted higher on the Korean peninsula, with Pyongyang threatening war while the United States flew in stealth bombers.

    Pak was named to the powerful ruling Workers' Party of Korea Central Committee political bureau on Sunday and his
    re-emergence as prime minister marks a further move by North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-un to reaffirm his grip on power.

    But the move leaves Kim - the third of his line to rule the impoverished, nuclear-armed state - dangerously
    dependent on his aunt and uncle, who have reasserted control over the military in a purge.

    "Pak Pong-ju works under the orders of Jang Song-thaek," said Cho Bong-hyun, an expert on the North's economy at the IBK Economic Institute.

    Failed leadership

    Pak is a career technocrat who took the post of premier in 2003 to implement an ambitious economic reform policy that
    allowed autonomy in farm production and pricing liberalisation, introduced in July 2002.

    He was sacked in 2007 when it became clear the steps aimed at boosting the impoverished state's economy, gripped by devastating famine in the 1990s, were not producing desired results.

    Jang, Kim's uncle, was also purged and has since been rehabilitated.

    Jang is officially a deputy chairman of the North's powerful National Defence Commission, which Kim heads despite his lack of military experience.

    He is believed to be the real power behind the throne as it struggles to boost its economy.

    Jang was on a high-profile tour of rival South Korea's industrial successes in 2002 and pointedly had the new premier
    Pak as a key member of the delegation just as they were mandated by former leader Kim Jong-il to rescue the ailing economy.

    The North's leader Kim said at the party meeting on Sunday that his country's focus will be to revive the economy and boost its nuclear arsenal.

    The shrill rhetoric from Pyongyang is in response to a United Nations Security Council resolution imposing sanctions
    for the country's February nuclear test and to a build-up of US forces in South Korea as part of military drills.

    The North says that Washington's moves are "hostile" and a prelude to an invasion.


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