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N. Korea Shows A Bit Of Kim's Heir, And Openness

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N. Korea Shows A Bit Of Kim's Heir, And Openness

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N. Korea Shows A Bit Of Kim's Heir, And Openness

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

North Korea, yesterday, finally unveiled its future leader, Kim Jong Un, to the world. It was an unusual event for the secretive country. About 100 members of the international press were allowed in to cover the enormous military parade where the future leader appeared.

One of those reporters was NPR's Louisa Lim who has this report from the capital, Pyongyang.

LOUISA LIM: One day after the pomp and politics, the military parade plays on what seems like every screen in Pyongyang. For many ordinary people, it's the first time they've seen their future leader, Kim Jong Un, on TV as he stood alongside the current leader, his father, Kim Jong Il.� As foreign press, we were given frontline access. Suddenly it seemed as if the hermit kingdom may have opened up a chink.

Early morning, I'm slipping out of the hotel without a minder, I saw women scrubbing the sidewalks. In this image-obsessed city, some were even cutting the grass with scissors.�Last trip, my every move was policed by a minder. But this time, things seem more relaxed, or perhaps more disorganized.

In the backstreets, kids were playing basketball. Today is a holiday, marking the 65th�anniversary of the Worker's Party. One young man, who gave his name as Kim, described how happy he was to see Kim Jong Un.

KIM: I think he's good, and he'll lead our country to a glorious future.

LIM: Not far off, I noticed a pile of corn heaped up inside a gate, and snapped a photo. Shouts erupted as it turned out to be a military compound and I beat a hasty retreat to the hotel. There, our foreign ministry minders were organizing our official schedule: a visit to a concert at a Worker's Party monument, and an exhibition.

(Soundbite of fireworks)

Since arriving, this trip has been devoted to politics and pageantry. After the massive military parade, we were taken to an evening gala, with fireworks, music and thousands of dancers. Our guide, Kim So Hye, said it was unprecedented.

Ms. KIM SO HYE (Guide): This is something that we didn't have before.

LIM: Why is it different from normal one?

Ms. HYE: The size, obviously, is different, and the artistic level is somehow different. And this is actually a very special occasion.

(Soundbite of music)

LIM: Every part of the program has a political message. Most of it is reinforcing the history of the nation, and the legitimacy of the Kim family to rule.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SONG CHAOL: They're crying.

LIM: They're crying? Why are they crying?

Mr. CHAOL: They're crying because (unintelligible) Kim Jong Il.

LIM: That's Song Chaol. This is the side of North Korea we were brought in to see: these extraordinary mass performances. These are displays of unity and devotion, which serve to keep thousands busy for months. This is a regime obsessed with stage-managing its image to the outside world, and to its own populace.�That's why the relative freedom we were given seemed surprising.

Mr. CHAOL: (Unintelligible)

LIM: Can I just record two minutes of the concert? Is that Okay?

Mr. CHAOL: No. No. No.

LIM: By mid-morning, the controls seemed back in place, as we trailed round a dusty exhibition hall. Just three hours after my impromptu morning stroll, a government handler approached me and asked to see my photos.

This is a reminder of what life is like in a totalitarian country. North Korea's leadership may be inching toward a power transition, there may be a new face on the podium but that doesn't necessarily mean reform is in the offing.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Pyongyang.

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