Saturday, November 22, 2008

North Korea in the Dark

While the world wonders if North Korea is in the throes of a leadership crisis over Kim Jong-il's suspected stroke, for ordinary people in the hermit state the real power struggle is coping with electricity shortages. One of course cannot help but note the similarity in being in the dark over Kim's health and succession plans in Asia's only communist dynasty.

During a recent four-day stay in Pyongyang for South Koreans attending a rare joint seminar between the Cold War rivals, electrical blackouts frequently occurred in the North's showcase city itself.

When the documents of the visiting South Koreans were about to be processed at the Soviet-era Sunan Airport terminal, computer terminals lost power and lights went out. An official tried in vain to keep the line of visitors moving by checking passports in the faint light from a distant door.

North Korea's dilapidated power system also means that its factories are largely idle, dealing a heavy blow to its already battered economy. When the sun goes down in Pyongyang, people hurry along unlit sidewalks before they have to grope their way home in near total darkness. At street level there were far more apartments in complete darkness than there were enjoying the faint glow of fluorescent lights.

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