NORTH Korean leader Kim Jong-un has taken a break from his war of words with the US to open a luxury set of apartments — with no hot water.
The apartments in Ryomyong Street, Pyongyang, offer impressive views, ice green wallpaper and purple sofas.
Ryomyong Street is the third prestige project in as many years in the North Korean capital, and by far the largest. It’s said to have nearly 5000 apartments, which according to authorities will be distributed free to deserving citizens.
Its name translates as “illumination” and the official KCNA news agency described it as “an icon of modern street architecture and a fairyland representing the era of the Workers’ Party”.
The white concrete towers come in multiple shapes — square, round and octagonal. They’re also different sizes — the tallest proclaimed as 70 storeys and 234 metres high.
Kim opened the apartments in front of an audience of tens of thousands of citizens and an invited coterie of international media.
It was built quickly, in around a year, to ensure completion in time for Saturday’s 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim’s grandfather, the North’s founder Kim Il-sung — who lies in state nearby.
“Keeping up appearances in Pyongyang makes a lot of sense for the government” of the nuclear-armed country, said Chad O’Carroll, managing director of specialist service NK News.
“Part of it is renovating and increasing capacity in Pyongyang, part of it is to reward those loyal to senior levels of leadership, and part of it is of course for show.
“That’s the reason they have invited so many journalists here, to show successful completion of a project in the face of increasing sanctions and international pressure.”
Kim’s association with the project also bolstered his domestic portrayal as “a leader that cares about the people”, he added.
A giant crowd of soldiers, officials and citizens — men in suits, women in traditional hanbok dresses — packed a plaza from early morning for the opening ceremony, waiting in the cold spring air for hours before Kim made his entrance, leading a delegation of senior officials and generals onto the dais.
“Long live comrade Kim Jong-un, the supreme leader of our party, nation and army,” read one banner.
‘DAY AND NIGHT’
Culture ministry official Kim Ok-Hwa was assigned to the construction project’s technical department, and said site personnel toiled for 18 hours a day, seven days a week, for a year, to finish it on schedule.
But she played down their role.
“The Supreme Leader devoted his very best efforts so our effort is very small compared to his effort,” she told AFP.
After seeing him at the ceremony, she said she felt “proud we have the greatest Supreme Leader in the world”.
Ordinary North Koreans usually express only officially-sanctioned views when questioned by foreign news organisations.
Personnel from North Korea’s army — among the largest in the world by numbers — are regularly deployed on construction projects, where they are known as “soldier-builders”.
“To implement thoroughly the order of the Supreme Commander we worked all day and all night,” said Lt-Col Kim Pyong-Ho, who worked on the 70-storey tower.
Staff say its hot water system is geothermal, and was not switched on for the opening ceremony.
But O’Carroll described the build quality on similar projects as “not so good”.
One of the apartment complexes erected to mark Kim Il-sung’s 100th birth anniversary collapsed in 2014, he said, with the North admitting there had been casualties.
“It went up in less than a year, I believe, and it came down two years later,” he told AFP. “When you’re rushing to complete things mistakes will be made. It is a risk.”
‘LIFE AS NORMAL’
Tension in the region have risen with the dispatch of a US aircraft carrier to the area and the deployment of thousands of US and South Korean troops, tanks and other weaponry for their biggest-ever joint military exercises.
Pyongyang has warned of war if it sees any signs of aggression from south of the Demilitarized Zone.
But life in the North’s capital has been outwardly quite normal over the past week, with residents turning out each day to prepare for their parts in mass events such as the parade, synchronised card displays or dancing parties in public plazas.
North Korea also has a history of connecting landmark construction projects to important political dates.
The most recent previous example is another new street, Mirae Street, which was built in time for the 65th anniversary in 2015 of the founding of North Korea’s ruling Worker’s Party.
Pyongyang has invited a large contingent of foreign media to cover the events, and the modern and shiny new residential street is clearly one of the places they most wanted the foreigners to see.
The buildings were put up in just over a year along what is called Ryomyong Street, which runs out of downtown Pyongyang, past North Korea’s top university and down to the palace where the country’s past leaders are kept embalmed.
The construction has gone on at breakneck speed, interrupted only by flooding in northeastern North Korea last autumn, when resources where temporarily diverted to reconstruction of homes there.
SOURCE: newsnow worldnews