By Graham Earnshaw, Reuters
PYONGYANG, Nov 24, Reuter – A North Korean official today dismissed reports of a power struggle in the Pyongyang leadership, but confirmed rumours that the country’s third most powerful man had been incapacitated in an accident.
The official was briefing a visiting group of western journalists, the first allowed into the country since a flurry of speculation last week over a false report that North Korean President Kim Il-sung had been assassinated.
The official Kim (one name) said South Korean reports of political instability within the North Korean leadership were all lies.
But he said he understood that O Jin-u, Defence Minister and third-ranking member of the ruling Workers’ (Communist) Party, had been hurt in an accident.
“He has not been seen for some time. I hear he has had an accident,” the official said.
He added that he did not know what sort of an accident.
Foreign sources in the North Korean capital said they had heard that O, 76, had been seriously injured in a car crash on the highway linking Pyongyang with the east coast port of Wonsan.
“It is a good road with very few cars, and drivers have been known to fall asleep,” said one foreign resident.
Another said he had heard that four people were killed in the car accident, but there was no official information on either the time or the circumstances of the crash.
O is one of three members of the presidium of the ruling Politburo, along with Kim Il-sung and his son and heir-apparent Kim Jong-il.
Last Monday, South Korean authorities said North Korean loudspeaker broadcasts along the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas had announced that Kim Il-sung, 74, had been shot dead.
The North Korean embassy in Peking denied the report immediately, and the next day Kim appeared at Pyongyang airport to greet visiting Mongolian President Zhambyn Batmunkh.
South Korea also reported a power struggle was in progress in Pyongyang, but on the streets of the city today there were no signs of any political crisis.
An atmosphere of orchestrated calm rules Pyongyang, a city rebuilt entirely in the past 30 years since it was destroyed during the 1950-53 Korean War.
Wide, empty boulevards crisscross the carefully planned city, dominated with monuments to President Kim.
New monuments and buildings of Stalinesque proportions are being built, many using army labour.
A tourist guide said the “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung constantly gave on-the-spot guidance to the builders.
A few official cars, mostly imported from Japan and western Europe, can be seen on the streets, while ordinary people travel by bus or on foot.
The guide said bicycles were not used in Pyongyang. REUTER NNNN