- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) - North Korea will convene its rubber-stamp parliament on April 9 to coincide with a planned rocket launch that regional powers suspect is cover for a test of missile technology.

The official Korean Central News Agency reported the timing on Friday in a brief dispatch from Pyongyang.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who is believed to have suffered a stroke last year, was unanimously re-elected to a seat on the legislative Supreme People’s Assembly in elections March 8.

In an undated still photo released Friday by KCNA shows Kim _ in his trademark dark sunglasses and a jumpsuit _ appeared to be much thinner.

North Korea said last week that it plans to launch a communications satellite some time from April 4 to April 8. Doubts, however, persist about Pyongyang’s true intentions, with countries including the United States, Japan and South Korea expressing concern that the launch is a cover for testing its advanced missile technology. North Korea is banned from conducting ballistic missile activity under a 2006 U.N. Security Council resolution.

Koh Yu-kwan of South Korea’s Dongguk University said the rocket launch was intended as a celebration of Kim’s third term as head of the National Defense Commission and would let the outside world know about the isolated country’s aspirations.

The launch is intended to “show the international community that it is the beginning of North Korea’s plan to build a prosperous and powerful nation,” he said.

On Friday, the North’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper stressed the importance of science and technology, an apparent reference to the planned launch.

“Development of science and technology makes a country powerful, while (those countries that) lag behind in science and technology become weak,” the newspaper quoted Kim as saying. The newspaper did not say when Kim made the comments carried in uriminzokkiri, an Internet media outlet run by the North Korean government.

North Korea’s launch plans have particularly angered Japan, over whose territory a rocket is likely to fly. The country’s defense minister said Thursday that it may move Patriot missiles to its northern coast for protection in case the launch fails.

The Supreme People’s Assembly meets only a few times a year to pass bills vetted by the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, which Kim heads. The 67-year-old leader is also supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army and chairman of the National Defense Commission.

The new assembly is expected to reconfirm Kim as leader in his capacity as chairman of the all-powerful commission.

North Korea usually holds a parliamentary election every five years, but the latest vote came nearly six years after the last one in August 2003 _ apparently delayed because of Kim’s illness.

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