N Korea parliament vows continued push for nuclear programme

N Korea parliament vows continued push for nuclear programme

SEOUL - North Korea on Thursday vowed to continue its push to develop nuclear weapons as well as ease chronic food and energy shortages during a rare parliamentary session that was closely watched by observers.

The announcement made following the meeting - one of the few opportunities to gauge the mood inside the reclusive nation - stuck closely to a New Year's speech by leader Kim Jong-Un which stressed the need to improve people's living standards.

According to the official KCNA news agency, Prime Minister Pak Pong-Ju told the legislative assembly that 2014 was "a year of shining victories as the foundation for winning a final victory in all fields of building a thriving nation was consolidated".

"The main thrusts for this year are to organise the economic work with a main emphasis on solving the food problem of the people with agriculture, stock-breeding and fisheries as the three pivots, drastically increasing power production and putting metal industry on Juche (self-reliance) basis," he said.

"It is important to thoroughly carry out the party's strategic line on simultaneously developing economic construction and the building of a nuclear force," Pak added.

The North's Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) meets only once or twice a year, mostly for day-long sessions to rubber-stamp budgets or other decisions made by the leadership, and is carefully monitored by observers for any changes to economic policy or a reshuffle of high-ranking officials.

Current leader Kim Jong-Un was absent from Thursday's session, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said.

He was also a no-show at the last SPA session in September 2014 when he was recovering from ankle surgery.

KCNA reported Wednesday that the nearly 690 SPA deputies had gathered in the capital for the meeting.

North Korea's economy has started to show signs of growth in recent years - albeit off a low base in a country where the majority of people live in poverty.

It is still an extremely poor country by any standards, but a thriving black economy - tolerated by the regime - has brought significant changes.

Unauthorised private markets have lessened dependence on a dysfunctional state ration system and provided a crucial income source for those on near-worthless state salaries.

The parliamentary session comes after the United Nations on Wednesday launched an appeal for US$111 million dollars (S$150 million) to help the 70 per cent of North Korea's population it says is now facing a food crisis.

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