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N. Korea to Hold Second Parliament Session Amid Economic Concern

North Korea will convene a second session of parliament at the end of the month amid speculation new leader Kim Jong Un is open to policy changes addressing the totalitarian state’s economic backwardness.

The Supreme People’s Assembly, which last met in April, will gather in Pyongyang Sept. 25, the official Korean Central News Agency said today without giving details. The meeting comes as North Korea struggles to recover from summer floods that left hundreds missing or dead in a country where two-thirds of the population suffers from chronic malnutrition.

Kim Jong Un, who succeeded his late father Kim Jong Il as leader in December, has sought to bolster his image by calling for better management of everything from factories to amusement parks. He has named economic development as a priority for a country whose gross domestic product is one-fortieth the size of South Korea’s.

“The session may lay the groundwork for new economic policies designed to improve living conditions for the people, as Kim Jong Un pledged in April,” said Yoo Ho Yeol, a North Korean Studies professor at Korea University in Seoul.

North Korea last held two parliamentary sessions in one year in 2010, when Kim Jong Il unveiled his son as successor, South Korean Unification Ministry spokeswoman Park Soo Jin said. Before then, the country hadn’t held two sessions in one year since at least 2003, Park said.

About 16 million of North Korea’s 24 million people suffer from food insecurity, high malnutrition rates and deep-rooted economic challenges, Jerome Sauvage, the United Nations resident coordinator in Pyongyang, said in June. North Korea had a gross domestic product of 32 trillion won ($28 billion) in 2011, compared with South Korea’s 1,237 trillion won, according to estimates by the South’s Bank of Korea. The North does not publish economic data.

Rains, Floods

Heavy rains and floods in July and August further compounded food shortages and malnutrition after more than 160 North Koreans died, 400 went missing and about 212,000 were left homeless, according to an Aug. 5 KCNA report. Last week’s Typhoon Bolaven killed 48 people and destroyed 6,700 houses, leaving more than 21,000 people homeless, KCNA said Sept. 3. The monsoon season this year came after the country’s worst drought in a century damaged wheat, barley and potato harvests.

Kim was named chief of the Workers’ Party on April 12, a day before the North test-fired a long-range rocket that failed minutes after liftoff, raising regional tensions. In response, the U.S. canceled a deal to provide 240,000 metric tons of food aid.

His public appearances at factories, supermarkets and restaurants are carefully coordinated to shape an image as a warm, friendly leader who cares for his people’s livelihood, according to analysts including Chon Hyun Joon, a senior fellow at the state-run Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.

Kim’s uncle Jang Song Thaek won a pledge last month from China, North Korea’s main benefactor, to increase economic and trade activity.

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