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North Korea says to elect MPs in government shake-up

SEOUL (Reuters) - Communist North Korea announced on Wednesday it will elect new delegates to its rubber stamp parliament in March, marking another step in a leadership shakeup that has already included a cabinet reshuffle.

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The reclusive North’s official media said in a two-sentence dispatch the election for deputies to its Supreme People’s Assembly would be held on March 8, without offering details.

North Korea wants to promote economic elite to the assembly to help lay the groundwork for the next generation of its leadership, a think tank affiliated with the South’s intelligence service said in a report in December, Yonhap news agency said.

However, analysts cautioned against reading too much into the leadership changes, saying Kim Jong-il and his inner circle hold the real power while ministers and other government officials have almost no influence in forming policy.

The assembly session that typically meets in April each year is a highly choreographed affair focused on budget matters where legislation is traditionally passed with unanimous approval.

North Koreans can vote only for the candidates selected by supreme leaders who allocate assembly seats to promote rank-and-file officials and purge those no longer in favor.

Questions of leadership in Asia’s only communist dynasty were raised after reports surfaced Kim suffered a stroke in August. South Korean officials said he never lost control of the state while Kim’s official media has shown him in the past few months as busy inspecting military units, factories and farms.

“Even if we know that someone was replaced, everything related to it is pure speculation because we have no clue as to the individual inclinations of these people,” said Andrei Lankov, an expert on the North at the South’s Kookmin University.

North Korea, which pledged to rebuild its decrepit economy in policy proposals made on New Year’s Day, has replaced five economic related ministers since Kim’s suspected illness, the South’s Unification Ministry said on Tuesday.

North Korea’s estimated $20 billion a year economy is smaller now than it was 20 years ago. It has been hit by a loss of aid from South Korea caused by political strife while the United States has threatened to cut off heavy fuel oil aid to punish Pyongyang for not abiding by a nuclear deal.

Editing by Nick Macfie and Sanjeev Miglani