In the News – Power Struggles and Purges in Pyongyang

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In the News – Power Struggles and Purges in Pyongyang

By BRUCE KLINGNER

Concerns about possible instability in North Korea were raised this week when Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho, head of the General Staff, was abruptly dismissed. The move smelled of a power struggle. The subsequent announcement that Kim Jong Eun was elevated to marshal—a military rank second only to the “Grand Marshal” bestowed on Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il—indicated that he retained the upper hand in the battle for control in Pyongyang.

Last week the news out of Pyongyang provided some amusement and hope for positive change, as Kim Jong Eun was serenaded by Disney characters and other Western cultural icons. That sparked serious speculation that the new leader might be more open to economic and political reform than his late father.

Clearly the North Korean leadership transition is more fraught than previously thought. But what is driving events in Pyongyang remains uncertain. Potential explanations revolve around four Ps—power, parity, people and policy:

• A classic struggle for power between the leader and potential contenders is the most likely explanation for recent events. But was Gen. Ri’s sudden removal due to a more secure Kim Jong Eun able to purge from even the innermost circle to further consolidate his power? Or did it indicate that older leadership elites felt emboldened enough to attack a key Kim loyalist? We don’t know.

• Then there’s also the issue of parity between the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) and the military. Under Kim Jong Il, power shifted from the former to the latter, as the National Defense Commission became the preeminent center of government power. But under Kim Jong Eun, the KWP has attained a stronger status, regaining some power from the military. Some experts speculate that the KWP’s Central Military Commission could eventually eclipse the National Defense Commission as arbiter of North Korean military policies.

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Associated Press Vice Marshal Choe with the new boss.

In that light, Gen. Ri’s dismissal could reflect a struggle for parity between the party and the military, the goal of which is to reduce entrenched military power. The problem is that Gen. Ri ouster had a foot in several competing camps. He was rewarded by both Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Eun, he was one of Kim Jong Il’s pallbearers, and he was—until this week—thought to be the younger Kim’s military mentor.

Thus, he was a “made” member of both the old guard and the new regime. He also held positions of authority in both the military and KWP. He was a member of the KWP Central Committee Presidium, the party’s highest-level body, and co-chairman of the Central Military Commission.

• Rather than a struggle to wrest power from Kim Jong-un, the purge may instead result from people fighting for closer access to Kim. There are widespread rumors that Gen. Ri was defeated in a struggle with personal rival Choe Ryong-hae, a senior party official.

Gen. Choe also recently became vice marshal, a member of the decision-making KWP Politburo Presidium and vice chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission (despite no military experience). He is thought to be close to Jang Song Taek, Kim’s uncle. During the important 100th anniversary celebrations of Kim Il Sung’s birth, Gen. Choe stood at Kim Jong Eun’s side, indicating his status had overtaken that of Gen. Ri.

• The least likely explanation for the purge is a debate over policy. Kim Jong Eun’s Mickey-Mousing resurrects the discredited theory that a despot’s appreciation of Western culture is supposed to presage an embrace of democracy and market principles. Gen. Ri’s removal played into this theory with adherents depicting him as a hardliner striving to obstruct Kim’s desire for bold reforms.

Yet there is no evidence that North Korea has become any less dangerous under its new leader or that Kim will pursue different policies. While the junior Kim has displayed a more dynamic and pragmatic image than his reclusive father, no one should think Pyongyang has embraced reform. Since Kim Jong Eun assumed power, the regime has called for the assassination of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and threatened to reduce South Korean media organizations to “ashes in three or four minutes.”

Most importantly, Kim violated U.N. resolutions by ordering April’s launch of a long-range ballistic missile. Nor should we forget that he oversaw the brutal purges that killed of hundreds during the past two years and has been credited with masterminding Pyongyang’s two acts of war against South Korea in 2010.

There’s one thing we know with relative certainty: That Kim Jong Eun felt it necessary to purge Gen. Ri strongly indicates his transition isn’t proceeding smoothly. Additional purges and organizational shakeups should be expected in coming months. All this is worrisome to the U.S. and its allies, since it increases the potential for provocative acts or, more ominously, the implosion of a regime possessing nuclear weapons.

Original Article

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Kim Kyung Hee: the obstinate woman

Many of you may already know of Kim Kyung Hee. She is famous for being Kim Jong Il’s sister and, more importantly, his most loyal adviser. As important as her position within North Korea is, I think it’s important to spend time taking a look at who she is.

Kim Kyung Hee was born in 1946, four years after her brother, Kim Jong Il was born. Both she and Kim Jong Il were born under Kim Il Sung’s first marriage with Kim Jong Suk. Their mother died at a very young age of 32 in 1949, just three years after giving birth to Kim Kyung Hee.

Kim graduated from Kim Il Sung University, North Korea’s most prestigious university. It is here, that she met her husband, Jang Sung Taek. According to Hwang Jang Yup, North Korea’s highest level defector (former international secretary of North Korea’s Worker’s Party), the two met while studying political economics together. Mr. Hwang remembers Jang as “not a particularly good student, but as a member of the arts society he was a talented accordion player, singer and dancer. Above all, he was sensible and shrewd.” Continue reading

In the News – 30 North Korean officials involved in South talks die ‘in traffic accidents’

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In the News – 30 North Korean officials involved in South talks die ‘in traffic accidents’

In its annual study, Amnesty International claimed that in addition to the 30 who died in purges last year, a further 200 were rounded up in January this year by the State Security Agency as Pyongyang carried out the transfer of power from Kim Jong-il, who died of an apparent heart attack in December, and his 29-year-old son, Kim Jong-un.

Of those 200, Amnesty said, some were apparently executed and the remainder were sent to political prison camps. The gulag system presently contains an estimated 200,000 people in “horrific conditions,” the group said.

North Korea has a habit of executing bureaucrats who are perceived to have failed the regime, even though they are often merely carrying out the orders of higher-ranking officials or members of the ruling family.

In 2010, Pak Nam-gi, the former head of the finance department of the Workers’ Party, was reportedly executed by firing squad for the catastrophic attempt to reform the impoverished nation’s currency. The result was rampant inflation and food shortages became even more acute.

The 30 men executed for failing to improve Pyongyang’s ties with Seoul are considered scapegoats for the new low point in inter-Korean ties.

Their task would have been made immeasurably more difficult given North Korea’s insistence with pushing ahead with its development of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

In spite of universal condemnation of its failed attempt to launch what Pyongyang claimed was a rocket to put a satellite into orbit in April, North Korea appears to be putting the finishing touches to a test detonation of a nuclear device.

Kim Min-seok, a spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of Defence, said on Thursday that intelligence reports indicate the North has completed its technical preparations to carry out the long-awaited test and that it could go ahead at any time.

Satellite images of the Punggye-ri site and other data show that the tunnel that had been excavated for the test has been refilled, indicating that the nuclear device has been put in place.

There is speculation that the test may be timed to coincide with the Memorial Day national holiday in the United States, which falls in Monday.

“The North Korean regime is hell-bent on being a belligerent actor,” said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, during a visit to Seoul with a congressional delegation. “And I think that on holidays or sad commemorations like Memorial Day weekend is when the leadership tries to provoke the democratic allies into action.”

 

Original article can be found here.

Intimacy in North Korea

Last summer I spent two weeks as an English language partner to North Korean defector middle and high school students in a small town on the outskirts of Seoul. After four years, I found myself once again immersed in the complex jungle of teenage angst, hormones, and emotions. Well, I know from my university experience that those unpredictable attitudes and moods don’t necessarily go away when you get older and that everyone manages to overcome his inner-teenager individually. But, I remember that while we did our best to think about what kind of activities would be both fun and advantageous to our seventeen through twenty-year-old students, at least one person would say something along the lines of our need to understand that these students weren’t just defectors preparing for new lives in South Korea; they were also hormonally driven teenagers on the brink of young love, experiencing their first infatuations, and learning the art of flirtation. I did not notice too many hormonal imbalances erupting before my eyes, but what about attraction and relationships in North Korea? To go even further, what about sex in North Korea?

“A North Korean couple has a picnic along the Taedong River in Pyongyang, North Korea” (AP Photo/Vincent Yu).

Notorious for a reputation of severe control and discipline, to what extent does the North Korean regime play a role in sexual intimacy? According to Radio Free Asia, the simple answer is that “when it comes to the privacy of the bedroom, even the all-powerful North Korean Workers’ Party is largely hands-off” (Love and Sex in North Korea). Continue reading

North Korea’s Embarrassing Rocket Launch

If you’ve kept up with the news at all, you may know about North Korea’s recent failed rocket launch. I know it’s been in the news quite a lot but I thought I’d provide a simplified version of what happened.

This past March, North Korea and the United States entered negotiations once again. The United States offered to provide 240,000 metric tons of nutritional assistance if North Korea would “freeze its nuclear and missile tests, along with uranium enrichment programs, and allow the return of U.N. nuclear inspectors.” This was big step both for North Korea and the U.S. because it meant that the North would possibly be giving up its biggest weapon and it also meant that the United States would be sending food aid to the impoverished country for the first time since 2009. It was also the first time North Korea and the U.S. had official talks since Kim Jong Un came to power. Thus, these negotiations had a lot of meaning because it would have determined DPRK’s future relationship with the United States. Continue reading

In the News – Students Targeted for Rocket ‘Rumors’

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In the News – Students Targeted for Rocket ‘Rumors’

North Korea detains university students over a failed rocket launch.

North Korean students work on their computers at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, April 11, 2012.

Authorities in North Korea are hunting down college students suspected of “spreading rumors” about a recent failed rocket launch amid warnings the reclusive state may stage a nuclear test.

North Korea defied international warnings and fired a long-range rocket on April 13 saying that it would carry a satellite into space, but the rocket crashed into the sea just minutes after takeoff, drawing condemnation from the U.S. and its allies who called the act a “provocative” move.

New leader Kim Jong Un had shrugged off international concerns and pushed ahead with the launch in conjunction with the 100th birthday of his grandfather Kim Il Sung, the deceased founder of the state.

Now, according to students, security personnel at some universities in North Korea are being instructed to take those who talk about the rocket failure into custody.

“The authorities are hunting down students who have spread rumors about the failed launch of the Kwangmyung-sung-3 [satellite] at the Hoeryong Teacher Training College (now renamed Kim Jong Suk Teacher Training College),” said one student from North Hamyong province, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Continue reading

In the News – More N.Korean Workers to Earn Valuta for Kim Jong-un

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In the News – More N.Korean Workers to Earn Valuta for Kim Jong-un

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un recently issued an order to send as many workers as possible abroad to earn hard currency, never mind the risk of defections, according to a South Korean government source.

This is a relatively unconventional position given that the North Korean regime has tried to limit the number of workers abroad to prevent “contamination” by foreign influences.

The source said North Korea has dispatched over 30,000 workers to some 40 countries around the world and plans to send out another 10,000 this year. “The reason is that sanctions by the international community have dried up North Korea’s sources of cash,” the source added. Continue reading

In the News – China Warns N.Korea Off Nuclear Test

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In the News – China Warns N.Korea Off Nuclear Test

A high-ranking official in China’s Foreign Ministry has issued a rare public warning to North Korea against another nuclear test, saying it would violate China’s national interest. The comments were made by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai to reporters at a press conference in Beijing on Wednesday.

“I am opposed to any act that damages peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, since such acts can damage the national security and interests of not only other countries but China’s as well,” Cui said. “No side should commit acts that raise tensions.”

This is the first time for China to comment publicly on the North’s nuclear development since the possibility of Pyongyang conducting a third nuclear test was raised.

But Cui resisted U.S. demands that China step up pressure on North Korea. “Maintaining peace on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia is the joint responsibility of all of the concerned countries, not just China alone,” he said.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – N.Korea Boasts of Ability to Destroy U.S. Military in ‘Single Blow’

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In the News – N.Korea Boasts of Ability to Destroy U.S. Military in ‘Single Blow’

North Korea’s army marked its 80th anniversary Wednesday with a vow to retaliate against what its chief of staff terms the traitors in the South. The remarks are the latest in a series of harsh threats directed at Seoul in recent weeks.

◆ N.Korea’s Provocations

North Korea is boasting of “powerful, modern weapons” that can defeat in a single blow the United States, which it accuses of plotting a war against it.

Chief of general staff, Ri Yong-ho, gave no further details about the weaponry in his speech to mark the North Korean army’s 80th anniversary. His address, from Pyongyang’s House of Culture, was broadcast later in the day on North Korean television.

Vice Marshal Ri says the blood of North Korea’s military and civilians is boiling in anger with a desire for revenge against South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak. He reiterates a threat of “sacred war,” transmitted earlier in the week, to crush the bases of provocation in the South. Continue reading

In the News – North Korea’s Missiles Displayed At Parade Are Fake, Say Analysts

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In the News – North Korea’s Missiles Displayed At Parade Are Fake, Say Analysts

By ERIC TALMADGE, Associated Press

TOKYO — Analysts who have studied photos of a half-dozen ominous new North Korean missiles showcased recently at a lavish military parade say they were fakes, and not very convincing ones, casting further doubt on the country’s claims of military prowess.

Since its recent rocket launch failure, Pyongyang’s top military leaders have made several boastful statements about its weapons capabilities. On Wednesday, Vice Marshal Ri Yong Ho claimed his country is capable of defeating the United States “at a single blow.” And on Monday, North Korea promised “special actions” that would reduce Seoul’s government to ashes within minutes.

But the weapons displayed April 15 appear to be a mishmash of liquid-fuel and solid-fuel components that could never fly together. Undulating casings on the missiles suggest the metal is too thin to withstand flight. Each missile was slightly different from the others, even though all were supposedly the same make. They don’t even fit the launchers they were carried on.

“There is no doubt that these missiles were mock-ups,” Markus Schiller and Robert Schmucker, of Germany’s Schmucker Technologie, wrote in a paper posted recently on the website Armscontrolwonk.com that listed those discrepancies. “It remains unknown if they were designed this way to confuse foreign analysts, or if the designers simply did some sloppy work.” Continue reading

In the News – North Korea Boasts of Ability to Destroy US Military in ‘Single Blow’

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In the News – North Korea Boasts of Ability to Destroy US Military in ‘Single Blow’

North Korea’s army marked its 80th anniversary Wednesday with a vow to retaliate against what its chief of staff terms the traitors in the South. The remarks are the latest in a series of harsh threats directed at Seoul in recent weeks.

North Korea’s provocations

North Korea is boasting of “powerful, modern weapons” that can defeat in a single blow the United States, which it accuses of plotting a war against it.

Chief of general staff, Ri Yong Ho, gave no further details about the weaponry in his speech to mark the North Korean army’s 80th anniversary.

His address, from Pyongyang’s House of Culture, was broadcast later in the day on North Korean television.

Vice Marshal Ri says the blood of North Korea’s military and civilians is boiling in anger with a desire for revenge against South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak. He reiterates a threat of “sacred war,” transmitted earlier in the week, to crush the bases of provocation in the South.

North Korea’s new, young leader Kim Jong Un was in the audience for Ri’s remarks. But Kim – who holds the rank of a four-star general – did not address the gathering. Continue reading

In the News – N.Koreans ‘See Kim Jong-un as Upstart’

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In the News – N.Koreans ‘See Kim Jong-un as Upstart’

North Koreans feel new leader Kim Jong-un is getting above his station by having himself appointed first secretary of the Workers Party by the country’s rubber-stamp parliament earlier this month, a South Korean official claimed Sunday.

“In North Korea, first secretary stands above all other secretaries,” the official said. “North Koreans are saying that Kim Jong-un has risen to a higher position than his father and are whispering that it is immoral of him to do that.”

In the North, any title with “first” in it is considered extremely eminent. Kim Jong-il was general secretary of the party.

The official claimed this sentiment is shared by some North Korean party and military officials. But the source added that this is an extremely sensitive issue and nobody dare discuss it publicly.

Original article can be found here.

Dinner at Pyongyang Restaurant at Seven?

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – an area renowned for isolation, shrouding itself in mystery – runs a chain of restaurants throughout Asia. Named after North Korea’s capital city, the restaurants, originally conceived to entice travelling South Korean businessmen hungry for Korean classics like kimchi or northern specialties like Pyongyang cold noodles or dangogi, have emerged in areas near the China-North Korean border, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Jakarta, and, most recently, Amsterdam. In the words of Australian journalist Sebastian Strangio, who enjoyed a meal at the Pyongyang restaurant in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the restaurant is brimming with curious customers, an overwhelming majority of which is South Korean. At Pyongyang Restaurant, customers can get an intriguing view of the lifestyles of North Koreans allowed to work outside of the borders of the DPRK. Continue reading

In the News – Is N.Korea Abandoning Its Quest for Self-Reliance?

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In the News – Is N.Korea Abandoning Its Quest for Self-Reliance?

A congress of North Korea’s ruling Workers Party on Wednesday revised regulations replacing many references to the “juche” or self-reliance ideology with “the principles of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.” That suggests that the impoverished country is moving away from disastrous attempts to prosper in total isolation.

The official Rodong Sinmun daily on Thursday said the preface to the new party regulations states that its ultimate purpose is to spread Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il’s principles “to achieve full self-reliance.” The preface previously said the purpose was to spread the juche ideology.

Another segment in the regulations now states that it is a “juche-style revolutionary party based solely on the principles of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.” It used to refer to it as a “juche-style revolutionary party based solely on the juche ideology.”

Ryu Dong-ryeol at the Police Science Institute said the aim is to combine Kim Il-sung’s juche ideology with Kim Jong-il’s songun or military-first doctrine.

There is speculation that the North could abandon the juche ideology altogether under new leader Kim Jong-un. But others disagree. “In North Korea, the juche ideology is everywhere like the air we breathe,” said Kim Young-soo of Sogang University. “Just because it’s mentioned less doesn’t mean it will disappear.”

Meanwhile, the new regulations changed the immediate goal from becoming “a powerful and prosperous nation” to “a powerful nation,” apparently lowering its sights since no great leap forward seems plausible.

Original article can be found here.

In the News – Kim Yeo Jung: The Backdoor Delegate

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In the News – Kim Yeo Jung: The Backdoor Delegate

A source in Seoul has revealed that Kim Jong Eun’s sister Kim Yeo Jung has been selected as a delegate to the upcoming 4th Chosun Workers’ Party Delegates’ Conference, which is scheduled for the 11th of this month.

“Kim Yeo Jung was not given the right to that position through a Party members’ election, she was given it on the recommendation of the Party Delegates’ Conference Preparatory Committee,” the source explained. “At the end of last month when elections for Party delegates were going on in the People’s Army and the provinces, cities and counties, Kim was also unanimously selected as a Party delegate by the Conference Preparatory Committee, and that was then approved by the Party Central Committee.”

A haunted looking young lady in her 20s standing behind Kim Jong Eun at Kim Jong Il's wake is believed to be Kim Yeo Jung (© Chosun Central TV)

Continue reading

In the News – N. Korean leader gets new political titles in key conference

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In the News – N. Korean leader gets new political titles in key conference

SEOUL, April 12 (Yonhap) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has gained new political titles, Pyongyang’s state news agency reported Thursday, ahead of an imminent rocket launch that could tighten sanctions on the already isolated country.

Kim was named first secretary of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party and also elected as a member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the party’s Central Committee, according to the (North) Korean Central News Agency.

Continue reading

In the News – N. Korea completes electing new leader Kim as party delegate

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In the News – N. Korea completes electing new leader Kim as party delegate

SEOUL, April 1 (Yonhap) — After a series of party meetings countrywide, North Korea has elected new leader Kim Jong-un as a delegate to this month’s ruling party conference, the North’s state media said Sunday, in a move seen by outside analysts as another effort to consolidate Kim’s grip on power.

The North’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) plans to hold a special session on April 13 and is expected to appoint the young Kim, believed to be in his late 20s, to the post of general secretary of the party. The same post was held by his late father Kim Jong-il.

The young leader became supreme commander of the North’s 1.1 million-strong military shortly after his father’s death in December, as he progressively takes more control of the communist country.

Announcing Kim as a WPK delegate, representatives “praised him as the great statesman who is wisely leading the revolution and construction as a whole with his tested leadership,” according to an English-language report by the Korean Central News Agency. Continue reading

In the News – N.Korea to Spend Billions on Centenary Celebrations

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In the News – N.Korea to Spend Billions on Centenary Celebrations

North Korea is about to spend an estimated US$2 billion, or one third of its annual budget, to mark the centenary of nation founder Kim Il-sung on April 15, plus an additional $850 million to build a three-stage rocket and launch pad for the event. The total would be enough to buy 4.75 million tons of rice based on current grain prices at $600 per ton as the regime holds out its hands for international food aid.

North Korea’s state budget last year was $5.7 billion, and the price tag of the centenary celebration has been estimated to be around $2 billion, according to a South Korean government source. The North invited representatives from 48 countries to Pyongyang for the centenary.  Continue reading

In the News – N. Korea’s state media tout new leader’s young age

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In the News – N. Korea’s state media tout new leader’s young age

SEOUL, Feb. 7 (Yonhap) — North Korea’s propaganda machines are churning out reports highlighting the early achievements of new leader Kim Jong-un, as his young age and apparent lack of experience continue to raise doubts about his leadership.

The new leader, thought to be in his late 20s, inherited power from his father Kim Jong-il, who died of heart failure on Dec. 17. Kim’s sudden demise accelerated the chosen heir’s rise to power, though with far less grooming than his father had received. Initial fears of internal chaos soon subsided as Kim Jong-un appeared to be consolidating his power in the communist regime.

Continue reading

In the News – North Korea Leader Kim Jong Un’s Inner Circle Filled With Aging Military Advisors

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In the News – North Korea Leader Kim Jong Un’s Inner Circle Filled With Aging Military Advisors

This picture taken by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on January 23, 2012 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (2nd R) visiting the Mangyongdae Revolutionary School at Pyongyang for the celebration of the lunar New Year. (KNS/AFP/Getty Images)

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Wherever North Korea’s young new leader goes, they’re there: a group of graying military and political officials who shadow Kim Jong Un as he visits army bases, attends concerts and tours schools.

As Kim Jong Un steps into the role of “supreme commander” less than two months after his father’s death, these officials can be seen in the background. They listen attentively as their leader speaks during “guidance visits” and stand at his side during group photos, smiling and clapping. Continue reading