The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Koreans last to know of blast
There is no parallel between India’s
policies and what has happened in North Korea - Manmohan Singh

Pyongyang, Oct. 10: While the rest of the world was digesting claims that North Korea had tested a nuclear bomb, there was one corner of the globe that was left in the dark: North Korea itself.

It was not until 4 pm local time that the Dear Leader, as Kim Jong-il likes to be known, deigned to let his people know of the momentous goings-on in their country. By then several hours had elapsed since the official Korean Central News Agency had informed the outside world of a “historic event” conducted with “indigenous wisdom and technology”.

Even when state television and radio were permitted finally to break the news, it was buried deep down in the bulletin, most of which was dedicated to the apparently far more important preparations for today’s 61st anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party.

Most people, in Pyongyang at least, were already aware of the test. Even in a total information vacuum like North Korea, where people have no access to the Internet, foreign television or even international telephone lines, it is hard to control the power of the bush telegraph.

Pyongyang is not a place where a foreigner can just stop people on the streets and ask them their views on political developments. Still, from the occasional snatched comment gleaned from braver souls, it appeared that most approved of the test.

North Korea has the right to possess nuclear arms, they said, parroting the propaganda relentlessly broadcast on state media. But if they were jubilant about the technological breakthrough, they did not show it.

“People here do not even suspect that the rest of the world disapproves and denounces the test,” said a foreign journalist in Pyongyang, one of the world’s most inaccessible cities.

“For the local population Kim Jong-il is a hero who has managed to secure nuclear arms for the defence of their country.” Even if, as some believe, Kim’s grip on his country is not quite as all-embracing as it once was, mutterings of discontent among his people have probably ebbed since a debilitating famine ended.

“Compared to three years ago, the situation with food supplies has improved dramatically,” the journalist said. “There is no impression of people starving here.” Everything is far from rosy, though. The authorities may deny it, but many basic staples like rice are still rationed through coupons.

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