North Korea's Rubber-Stamp Legislature Replaces Prime Minister

North Korea replaced its prime minister during a session of its rubber-stamp legislature, an official report said.

Pak Pong Ju was replaced by Kim Yong Il, the North's Korean Central News Agency reported late Wednesday, without giving any reasons for the change.

Pak had been promoted in 2003 from his job as minister of chemical industries in a move that was believed to indicate North Korea's attempt to revive its moribund economy. His replacement, Kim, 62, had served as minister of land and marine transport since 1994, KCNA reported in an update Thursday.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Il attended the meeting Wednesday of the Supreme People's Assembly, KCNA reported, but apparently did not make any comments there.

The move comes amid intense diplomacy aimed at getting North Korea to meet a Saturday deadline under a February disarmament agreement to shut down its main nuclear reactor in exchange for aid and political concessions.

The Supreme People's Assembly usually convenes once or twice a year to approve budgets or discuss policy, but has little real power in a country ruled with an iron fist by Kim Jong Il.

At the assembly's meeting, the delegates heard reports on the budget with officials claiming success in meeting goals for revenue and spending, although no financial figures were given.

Vice Premier Kwak Pom Gi, who led the session instead of the ousted Pak, said the country's main economic goals this year are to "improve the standard of people's living" along with the "modernization of the national economy," KCNA reported.

The premiership is among several high-ranking positions, but the country's No. 2 leader is Kim Yong Nam, the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly.

North Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world. As many as 2 million people are estimated to have died from famine that began in the 1990s because of poor harvests caused by mismanagement and natural disasters and the loss of the North's main benefactor, the Soviet Union.

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