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Geopolitics

Pyongyang Postcard: First Cracks Appear In North Korea's Wall Of Ice

Behind the rigidity of its political system, the North Korean capital offers evidence of a slow evolution, from construction projects to an emerging underground economy. Will Kim Jong-un accelerate the evolution or nip it in the bud? A close-up look.

A view from Pyongyang's Taedong River (David Stanley)
A view from Pyongyang's Taedong River (David Stanley)
Philippe Pons

PYONGYANG – Kim Jong-il's death on Dec. 17 briefly interrupted a frantic construction frenzy in Pyongyang. The city had been busily preparing for upcoming centennial celebrations of his father and North Korea's founder and "Great leader," Kim Il-sung. The April 15 event is supposed to usher in a new era of "strength and prosperity" for North Korea. Blocked streets, road repair, renovating facades, new buildings: the whole city is one big open construction site.

To a mix of music and chants coming out of giant loudspeakers, thousands of men and women, including soldiers, are hard at work. Despite the heavy machinery, shovels, picks and manpower are still king. "When Korea decides, everything is possible!" reads a banner. But at what price? The skeleton of the principal building project has been finished thanks to a steady pace of "two stories a day," but no one will say how many accidents there have been.

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Two Ukrainian soldiers at a military base on the outskirts of the separatist region of Donetsk

Lisa Berdet, Lila Paulou, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Halito!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where the first war crimes trial against a Russian soldier since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine gets underway in Kyiv, Kim Jong-un slams North Korean officials’ response to the coronavirus outbreak and Mexico’s National Registry of Missing People reaches a grim milestone. Meanwhile, Ukrainian news outlet Livy Bereg looks at the rise of ethnic separatism across Russia’s federal regions.

[*Choctaw, Native American]

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