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In first New Year speech, North Korea's Kim Jong Un calls for economic revamp

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Story highlights

  • Kim Jong Un wants a "radical" change in North Korea's economic development
  • His New Year's address is the first by a North Korean leader since 1994
  • He says "confrontation" needs to be removed from relationship with South Korea

In his first New Year's address, the young North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told the nation to embark on "an all-out struggle" to overhaul its destitute economy, while striking a conciliatory tone on relations with the South.

Broadcast on state media, the speech Tuesday was a break from the approach of Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, who died more than a year ago and never made televised addresses during his 17 years in power.

Although Kim Jong Un has cultivated a much less austere public image than his father, he has still maintained the strong emphasis on advancing the reclusive state's military capabilities, and putting a renewed strain on ties with the United States and South Korea.

In his speech, Kim celebrated North Korea's controversial launch last month of a long-range rocket that put a satellite in orbit. Condemned by the United Nations, the move was widely considered to be a test of ballistic missile technology.

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The launch was "a great event which inspired all the service personnel and people with confidence in sure victory and courage and clearly showed that Korea does what it is determined to do," Kim said, according to a transcript of his speech published by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

    He linked the launch of the rocket to his call to revamp the nation's poverty-stricken economy, which relies heavily on trade with its key ally, China.

    "Let us bring about a radical turn in the building of an economic giant with the same spirit and mettle as were displayed in conquering space," Kim said, stressing the need to improve the standard of living of the country's malnourished population.

    He didn't however provide details on what kind of measures would be introduced to increase industrial and agricultural output.

    Turning to the tense relationship with South Korea, Kim said that removing "confrontation" between the two sides would be important in bringing about their reunification. He criticized the "hostile policy" of "anti-reunification forces" in the South.

    His comments come less than two weeks after the election of a new South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, who has promised to pursue greater engagement with Pyongyang than her predecessor did. But her task has been made more complicated by the North's provocative rocket launch last month.

    In a speech following her election victory, she said she intended to "open up a new era for the Korean peninsula with strong security and credible diplomacy."

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    The two countries are technically still at war, since no peace accord was reached after the all-out armed conflict they fought in the 1950s.

    The leader of North Korea at the time of the Korea War was Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of Kim Jong Un. In making Tuesday's televised New Year's address, the younger Kim appears to have rekindled one of his grandfather's traditions.

    The last time a North Korean leader made such a speech was in 1994 -- Kim Il Sung's last New Year's address before his death.

    During Kim Jong Il's rule between 1994 and last year, the spoken address on January 1 was replaced by an editorial published by state-run newspapers.

    The editorial was mandatory study for all citizens, recollecting the achievements of the past year and laying out the tasks for the year ahead, themes apparent in Kim Jong Un's speech Tuesday.