• N. Korea parliament meet watched for policy change


    SEOUL: North Korea’s legislative assembly was to hold a rare session Thursday, with observers looking out for any changes to economic policy or a reshuffle of high-ranking officials.

    The Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) meets only once or twice a year, mostly for day-long sessions to rubber-stamp budgets or other decisions made by the leadership.

    No session schedule or agenda was provided in advance of the meeting.

    The North’s official KCNA news agency reported Wednesday that the nearly 690 SPA deputies had gathered in the capital and paid tribute to former leaders Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il.

    Observers will be watching to see if the assembly adopts any policies related to a New Year’s speech by current leader Kim Jong-Un which stressed the need to improve people’s living standards.

    Kim had called for overhauls of the agriculture, fisheries and livestock industries and urged managerial reform in state-run businesses to allow them to operate more independently.

    North Korea’s economy has started to show signs of growth in recent years —albeit off a low base in a country where the majority of people live in poverty.

    It is still an extremely poor country by any standards, but a thriving black economy—tolerated by the regime —has brought significant changes.

    Unauthorized private markets have lessened dependence on a dysfunctional state ration system and provided a crucial income source for those on near-worthless state salaries.

    During the SPA session, close attention will also be paid to any sign of changes in the top leadership positions.

    The meeting comes after the United Nations on Wednesday launched an appeal for $111 million (103 million euros) to help the 70 percent of North Korea’s population it says is now facing a food crisis.

    Kim Jong-Un was a no-show at the last SPA session in September 2014 when he was recovering from ankle surgery.



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