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NK-cabinet reshuffle

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

SEOUL, April 2 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's parliament moved to revamp the cabinet by appointing several new ministers while it tapped an economic expert as the country's new premier, state media outlets said Tuesday, an indication that the North is seeking economic reform.

Korean Central Television and Radio Pyongyang said earlier in the day that the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) sacked the vice prime minister Ri Seung-ho, and other ministers in charge of agriculture, natural resources development, city management, land and environmental preservation and the chemical and crude oil industries. Heads of the public health and education ministries were also replaced with no reason given for their dismissal.

"Many ministers that were sacked had served their post for some time and were due to be replaced, but others had held the post for less than an year, indicating that the reshuffle may be a sign that Pyongyang wants to push forwards changes in the economic sphere," a local researcher speculated.

Observers in Seoul said the large scale changes in the North's cabinet may be connected to the SPA's decision to name Pak Pong-ju as prime minister for the second time.

Pak is a long-time industry technocrat and economic expert who led the chemical industry ministry before serving as the country's premier from 2003-2007. He visited Seoul in 2002 as a member of a North Korean economic delegation, and is cited for spearheading the "July 1 Decree" in the same year that calls for wage setting reforms and more freedom for the country's businesses.

The broadcasters said that to fill the vacancies, Ri Mu-yong was named vice prime minister and head of the Ministry of Chemical Industry with Ri Chol-man made Minister of Agriculture and vice prime minister. Kang Yong-su and Pae Hak-yi were each named ministers of city management and crude oil industry.

The media outlets added that new officials were appointed to lead the ministries of fisheries, national resources development, environment preservation and education. The education minister jointly holds the title of president of Kim Il-sung University, the North's most prestigious school.

The North has been raising tensions on the Korean Peninsula by launching a long-range rocket and detonating its third nuclear device, yet at the same time, it has been emphasizing the importance of economic growth and improving the livelihood of the people.

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