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North Korea holds rare cabinet meeting on economy

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SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea’s cabinet has held a full meeting with officials from regional people’s committees, rural farm and manufacturing bureaux and local factories to talk about the budget and the economy, state media said on Monday.

The report on the undated expanded cabinet meeting came amid speculation that Pyongyang may make an important announcement, possibly about the health of reclusive leader Kim Jong-il or its ties with the South, which have chilled sharply in recent months.

“Such issues as focussing all resources to boost production in the main sectors of the people’s economy based on the superiority of socialist planned economy and the issue of improving external economic ties were discussed,” the official KCNA news agency said.

The KCNA dispatch said attendants discussed implementing leader Kim’s treatise on socialist economy but did not say if the leader was present. Kim rules as the head of the country’s defence commission and is not a member of the cabinet.

Sources familiar with the North said there were no indications that Kim, thought to have suffered a stroke, was anything but firmly in control of the reclusive state.

Japanese news reports said North Korean diplomats had been told to stay close to their missions and await an important message, but South Korea’s Unification Ministry responsible for ties with the North said no unusual activity was observed there.

Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Nick Macfie