Kim Jong-Il unnerved as news from Arab world filters into North Korea

Thursday, March 3, 2011   E-Mail this story   Free Headline Alerts

By Lee Jong-Hean, special from

SEOUL The Kim family regime that has ruled North Korea for more than six decades is on high alert after popular protests swept aside authoritarian regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, with others on the brink.

Government officials and intelligence analysts here see slim chances of a large-scale public uprising in North Korea where the flow of information is strictly-controlled and the Internet and other information channels to the outside world are completely blocked.

But sources with extensive contacts in the North say outside information is increasingly penetrating the secretive state thanks to the same electronic devices that have played a key role in spreading public protests in the Arab world.

"The upheavals which deposed long-serving dictators of Tunisia and Egypt and are now threatening Moammar Gadhafi in Libya was enough to unnerve (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-Il," a high-level defector from North Korea said.

"The fear was reflected by a series of programs the North's state-run media abruptly released in recent days, which were aimed at keeping its population away from Internet and electronic devices," the source said.

The North's media blacked out news of the events unfolding in the Arab world and have been instead stepping up rhetoric warning of influence from foreign ideas and cultures.

The North s authorities "would push for projects to counter the spread of information by ugly tools of Internet and mobile phones," the North's Central Broadcasting Station said in a program. The KCBS and other media praised China's crackdown on the Internet, cell phones and social networks "as a way to protect its own noble culture from vicious extraneous culture."

The North has also suspended mobile phone rentals for visitors from abroad, possibly out of fear that the free flow of information could spark public movements similar to those that overthrew the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported.

"The moves show the North's concerns about possible public rallies," a separate source in Seoul said, noting protests are on the rise in the world's most entrenched authoritarian state.

The Chosun Ilbo, Seoul's largest newspaper, said protests though small for food and electricity sprung up in several towns near the border with China days ahead of the birthday of Kim Jong-Il, that fell this year on Feb. 16.

The protests followed the diversion of electricity away from those areas to be used instead for Kim's lavish birthday festivities in Pyongyang, the daily said, citing North Korean sources. Protesters used rolled-up newspapers as makeshift megaphones to shout: "Give us fire (electricity) and rice!"

The State Security Ministry immediately investigated the incident but failed to identify the culprits as residents covered for those involved, the newspaper said.

It was the latest in a set of public protests in the North, mostly over acute food shortages and economic troubles. In January, hungry North Korean troops tasked with extracting uranium to be used for the nuclear program reportedly staged a strike over food shortages.

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