North Korea's new leader rolls out his first policy

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The Independent Online

North Korea has announced the first official change of policy under its leader Kim Jong-un – an extra year of schooling for all children.

The communist nation's parliament, the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), approved a law extending state-sponsored education to 12 years from the previous 11, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported. It did not explain how the government would pay for the change.

Mr Kim, 29, who was declared North Korea's supreme leader in December, attended what was the SPA's second meeting of the year, which was notable mainly as a departure from how his father did business. Before he died in December, Kim Jong-il convened his legislature just once in most years. During one three-year period after his own father's death, it did not meet at all.

Yesterday's session was adjourned after a single day, the KCNA said. Foreign reporters were denied access, but news bulletins on state television showed legislators, many of the women in traditional Korean dresses, holding up deputy's badges in the vast Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang.

North Korea's constitution allows political parties, but politics is overwhelmingly dominated by the Workers' Party, founded by Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of the current ruler. Virtually all legislators are members of the Kims' party who ran unopposed in the last nationwide election, leading many outside observers to consider the body a rubber stamp for the regime's policies. A few legislators are from the Chondoist Chongu Party and the Social Democratic Party, both believed to government aligned.