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N. Korean Video Spotlights Kim, Rocket Launch Before Parliament Opens


North Korea has kicked its news media into high gear in the days between its rocket launch and this week's opening of a new session of parliament. Pyongyang appears eager to maximize the internal political dividends of the launch.

North Korea has released the first video footage of leader Kim Jong Il to be seen in months.

Images shown on state-run television Tuesday show the North Korean leader visiting a farm, a factory and a computer laboratory. A narrator describes the visits as taking place between August and December of last year.

Those dates were when intelligence agencies believe Kim Jong Il would more likely have been receiving medical attention for a stroke he is believed to have suffered in mid-2008.

Many North Korea scholars believe this week's launch of a long-range rocket by the North is partially aimed at dispelling questions about its leader's health and to buttress the perception that he remains firmly in control of the country.

The North's legislature formally opens a new session, Thursday, and Kim Jong Il is widely expected to make a live appearance to preside.

North Korea has been flooding the airwaves with state media-produced images of the rocket launch.

As engines flare and the rocket lifts off, an announcer says the country's engineers have successfully put a communications satellite into orbit.

More than an million people are estimated to have starved to death in North Korea since the mid-1990s, because of Pyongyang's economic isolation and mismanagement. The French news agency quotes North Korea's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper as saying Kim Jong Il "was choked with sobs" at spending public money on the launch instead of on people's welfare.

Brian Myers is an analyst in North Korean political propaganda at South Korea's Dongseo University. He says North Koreans are used to the portrayal of their leader as too preoccupied with national defense to worry about the economy. He adds, the media reference to Kim Jong Il's tears may have been a response to South Korean government public statements about the expense of the launch.

"Ten years ago, I think this criticism would probably not have bothered Pyongyang very much, because the country was more or less sealed off from the outside world," Myers said. "But, now, hundreds of thousands if not more North Koreans are accessing outside sources of information. And, I think this puts the Kim Jong Il regime under pressure to respond very quickly to the propaganda offenses of the other side."

The United States, Japan, and South Korea say their data indicates no part of the North's launch reached orbit. They say the final stage of the rocket, and the satellite it was carrying, plunged into the Pacific Ocean east of Japan. North Korea says the satellite is playing revolutionary communist anthems as it circles the earth.

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