New year silence fuels Kim rumours

SEOUL - North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong Il, yesterday overturned all New Year's Day traditions followed by his late father every year since 1948 by failingto attend ceremonies or address the nation.

Instead, the reclusive Mr Kim, 52, son of Kim Il Sung, turned up to inspect an army unit, official media said. It was his first public appearance since 1 November, when North Korean television showed him inspecting a construction site in Pyongyang.

Monitors of Stalinist North Korea, in Seoul and in Tokyo, were left perplexed and listening to a 27-minute rerun of the elder Kim's 1994 new year speech. State radio issued a three-word statement - "Happy new year" - attributed to the younger Kim.

"Something unusual is going on, but we don't know what," said an official monitor in Seoul, as uncertainty persisted over Mr Kim's succession to his father's titles as president and party chief. His failure to assume the posts in the six months since hisfather died has fuelled speculation about power struggles involving the armed forces, and rumours that he may be seriously ill.

Hundreds of rioters marked the new year in Germany by throwing paving stones and fireworks at police in Bremen and Rathenow.

In Pakistan, Muslim activists clashed with revellers and police in several cities, leaving a student dead and dozens injured. The new year was celebrated with customary exuberance in the Philippines. Fireworks and stray bullets claimed 16 lives and injured more than 800. Japan, meanwhile, had its third and fourth earthquakes in four days, 4.6 and 6.7 on the Richter scale.