SEOUL, April 1 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has appointed Pak Pong-ju, a long-time industry technocrat who led the country's economic reform a decade ago, to the post of prime minister in its recent government reorganization, the North's official media said Monday.
Pak, 74, replaced Choe Yong-rim, who was moved to the post of honorary vice-president of the Presidium of the Assembly, the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a report, monitored in Seoul.
Pak's appointment was confirmed by the seventh session of the Supreme People's Assembly, the North's largely rubber-stamp legislature, it added.
The announcement came a day after Pak was named as a standing member of the political bureau of the ruling Workers' Party. According to Pyongyang watchers in Seoul, his appointment may signal the start of a new economic reform drive in the isolated communist country.
Pak, who served as the premier of the North's Cabinet in 2003-2007, is cited for spearheading the "July 1 Decree" in 2002 that calls for wage-setting reforms, better consumer pricing control and more freedom in the country for business.
Though his strong initiative triggered a backlash from the party and the military, which resulted in his dismissal, Pak returned to power with the Workers' Party in 2010 and was posted to the light industry department.
Taking his track record into consideration, the new prime minister is expected to put greater emphasis on the light and agricultural sectors as part of efforts to boost its moribund economy, experts said.
"Pak's appointment to the premiership indicates how much North Korean leader Kim Jong-un stresses the importance of stimulating the country's economy," said Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korean studies professor at Seoul's Dongkuk University.
During the parliamentary meeting, the North's legislators "expressed their determination to re-energize the overall economy of the country, step up the grand advance for improving the standard of people's living," the KCNA said in its English dispatch.
The annual spring session, which is usually held to approve personnel changes and budget plans, comes amid heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula over the country's near-daily threats of war. The tension drastically escalated following the North's Feb. 12 nuclear test, which earned the country fresh U.N. sanctions, and joint annual U.S.-South Korea military drills in March.
During the meeting, the communist country also adopted a law on "consolidating the position of a nuclear weapons state for self-defense," declaring itself as "a full-fledged" nuclear power, according to the report.
Stressing that the move aims to cope with "the ever-escalating hostile policy of the U.S. and nuclear threats," the North said it can take practical steps to bolster its nuclear power "both in quality and quantity" and can attack enemies "until the world is denuclearized."
The communist country also passed a law on developing space, and decided to make the "State Space Development Bureau," which will be in charge of supervising its space development program so as to develop the country into "a world-class space power by exercising its legitimate right to space development for peaceful purposes," the KCNA said.
Pyongyang has long claimed its "legitimate right to use space for peaceful purposes and to develop the country's science, technology and economy" for its launch of long-range rockets, with the latest last December.
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