SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea’s parliament named former premier Pak Pong-ju, who was sacked in 2007 for failing to implement economic reforms, as its prime minister on Monday in a move that cements the grip of the ruling Kim dynasty on key posts in the country.
Pak, believed to be in his 70s, is a key ally of Jang Song-thaek, the uncle of the isolated state’s ruler Kim Jong-un, and worked for Jang’s wife, Kim’s aunt Kim Kyong-hui.
“At the session, Deputy Choe Yong-rim was recalled from the post of premier of the DPRK Cabinet and Deputy Pak Pong-ju was elected premier of the DPRK Cabinet,” state news agency KCNA said, referring to a meeting of the rubber-stamp parliament.
DPRK is short for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Pak was named to the powerful ruling Workers’ Party of Korea Central Committee political bureau on Sunday and his re-emergence as premier marks a further move by North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong-un to cement power.
The move does however leave Kim, the third of his line to rule the impoverished, nuclear-armed state, dangerously dependent on his aunt and uncle who have reasserted control over the military in a purge.
Pak is a career technocrat, took the post of premier in 2003 to implement an ambitious economic reform policy that allowed autonomy in farm production and pricing liberalization that was brought in in July 2002.
But he was removed in 2007 when it became clear the steps aimed at boosting the impoverished state’s economy, which had experienced devastating famine in the 1990s, were not producing desired results and the North’s military began protests at the cabinet, wielding greater power on state matters.
Jang, Kim’s uncle, was also purged and has since been rehabilitated.
The appointment of Pak comes as North Korea is engaged in a war of words with the United States and South Korea, threatening to launch missile attacks on the United States and to invade the South.
The shrill rhetoric from Pyongyang is in response to a United Nations Security Council Resolution that imposed sanctions for the country’s February nuclear test and to a build-up of U.S. forces in South Korea as part of military drills.
The North says that Washington’s moves are “hostile” and a prelude to an invasion.
Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by David Chance and Raju Gopalakrishnan