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North Korea At a Glance

Land: 46,540 square miles, about the same size as Pennsylvania. Much of the country is mountainous.

Population: 23 million

Economy: Natural resources are more plentiful than in South Korea. The economy suffered drastic declines in the 1990s, and a series of natural disasters reduced much of the country to starvation. Per capita gross domestic product is estimated at $741.

History: Once an independent kingdom associated with China, Korea was annexed by Japan in 1910. At the end of World War II, Soviet and U.S. troops set up occupation zones in the North and South respectively. Negotiations to establish a democratic, unified Korea failed, and in 1948, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was established in the North and the Republic of Korea in the South.

Under Kim Il Sung, the North set off the Korea War in June 1950 when it invaded the South. A U.N. force, dominated by U.S. troops, drove the North's forces back toward its border with China. China then joined the North and the two sides fought to stalemate in 1953, when an armistice was signed.

Foreign Relations: Officially the country bases its foreign policy on Kim Il Sung's "juche," a philosophy of political and economic self-reliance. After the economic hardship o the 1990s, the death of Kim Il Sung, and the proclamation of a more open "sunshine policy" toward the country by South Korea, North Korea began cautiously exploring improved relations with the West.

The leaders of North and South Korea vowed to work toward reconciliation and eventual reunification at a historic summit held in Pyongyang in June.

Political System: The Korean Workers Party controls all political activity and organized labor. North Korea's parliament, the 687-seat Supreme People's Assembly, approves most measures submitted to it. A 17-member Presidium oversees the State Administration Council, a cabinet-like body headed by the prime minister.

Kim Il Sung was named prime minister in 1948 and president in 1972. He died in 1994 at age 82, and the office of state president was abolished in his honor. The defacto head of state is his son Kim Jong Il.

Source: Associated Press, Political Handbook

2000 The Washington Post Company





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