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Politics

Kim Jong Un tightens grip on power in North Korea

Kim Jong Un waves to North Korean citizens.   © KCNA

SEOUL -- North Korea's parliament on Wednesday appointed Kim Jong Un the head of a freshly minted state affairs committee, local media reported, consolidating even more power into the country's one and only ruler.

The Supreme People's Assembly decided to redesignate the National Defense Commission as a committee for state affairs. It also discussed the implementation of a five-year economic plan decided on at the ruling Workers' Party congress held in May.

Parliament also appointed three top party officials -- military Politburo chief Hwang Pyong So, party vice chairman Choe Ryong Hae and Premier Pak Pong Ju -- as the leader's deputies on the new committee. Other members include party vice chairman Kim Ki Nam, former Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong and Defense Minister Pak Yong Sik. The state affairs committee drew more heavily from the party's ranks than from the military.

Kim Jong Un likely aims to escape his late father Kim Jong Il's shadows and solidify his own legacy as a ruler. Some say that by effectively abolishing the National Defense Commission, which gained clout under Kim Jong Il, the younger Kim has instead created a political apparatus that encompasses all state affairs, from the military to foreign relations and the economy.

His appointment as head of this new committee can be seen as a return to the days of his late grandfather Kim Il Sung, still a widely respected figure in North Korea. Many had expected the assembly to revive the Central People's Committee, which was abolished in 1998, and appoint Kim Jong Un as its chair, a source from South Korea's Ministry of Unification said.

This was the Supreme People's Assembly's seventh meeting under Kim Jong Un. The body meets once or twice a year to discuss appointments to the country's defense commission and cabinet, the national budget and other key political decisions. The young leader had not attended the last two meetings, in September 2014 and April 2015, but was present on Wednesday.

The Workers' Party, which held its first congress in 36 years this May, takes precedence over government institutions in North Korea. The parliament simply rubber-stamped decisions made at the earlier party congress.

North Korea is pursuing a two-track policy of economic growth and nuclear development, and has conducted a series of nuclear and missile tests. In response to mounting pressure from the international community in the form of economic sanctions, North Korea has sent ruling party officials to speak with leaders of Cuba, Vietnam, Laos and other friendly nations in an attempt to break down the sanctions regime. A chronic energy shortage and other setbacks have kept Pyongyang from making much headway in terms of economic growth.

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