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N Korea at crossroads

Kim Jong Un lists economic failures as rare party congress opens

North Korean leader vows greater self-reliance ahead of unveiling new plan

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks at the congress of the Workers' Party in Pyongyang on Wednesday.    © Reuters

SEOUL (Reuters) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his five-year economic plan had failed to meet its goals "on almost every sector" as he kicked off the ruling Workers' Party congress on Tuesday, state media KCNA reported on Wednesday.

The rare political gathering, which Kim last hosted in 2016, has drawn international attention as he is expected to unveil a new five-year economic plan and address foreign policy, just two weeks before U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

In his opening speech, Kim said the country had achieved a "miraculous victory" by bolstering its power and global prestige since the last meeting, referring to military advances that culminated in successful tests in 2017 of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the U.S. mainland.

But the five-year economic strategy he set forth in 2016 had failed to deliver, he said, calling for a boost in North Korea's self-reliance to tackle internal and outside challenges hindering its progress.

"The strategy was due last year but it tremendously fell short of goals on almost every sector," Kim said, according to KCNA.

On the global pandemic, Kim lauded party workers for ensuring "stable situations against the coronavirus from beginning to end."

They had "resolutely overcome difficulties in the face of an unprecedentedly prolonged, unparalleled global health crisis," he added.

North Korea has not officially confirmed any coronavirus cases, although it reported thousands of "suspected cases" to the World Health Organization.

South Korean authorities have said an outbreak in the North cannot be ruled out as it had active trade and people movement with China before closing its border last January.

The congress, the country's eighth and the second under Kim, was attended by 4,750 delegates and 2,000 spectators, Kim said.

In KCNA images, no one was seen wearing masks and participants did not sit apart, unlike at some other recent public events.

Kim was accompanied by top aides, including his sister and senior party official Kim Yo Jong, nominal head of state Choe Ryong Hae and Premier Kim Tok Hun.

The meeting will last some days, during which Kim is also expected to announce leadership changes - potentially involving his sister - and discuss other organisational, budget and audit issues. 

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