N.Korea's Kim receives bread-and-salt welcome in Russia

21st August 2011, Comments 0 comments

North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong Il on Sunday received a red carpet welcome in the Amur region where he also toured a hydro power station ahead of talks with President Dmitry Medvedev.

Kim on Saturday kicked off a week-long secrecy-wrapped visit to the Russian Far East and Siberia, a rare trip out of a country battling isolation and hunger.

Earlier on Sunday his armoured train arrived at the small Bureya station in the Amur region where smiling Russian women dressed in red national costumes offered the high-profile guest a loaf of bread and salt in accordance with Russian tradition.

An AFP correspondent at the scene said the 69-year-old leader looked serious and tired and received help getting out of the train.

Sporting sunglasses and his trademark khaki-colored military-style suit, Kim broke off a piece of bread as Kremlin's regional envoy Viktor Ishayev and a throng of local officials looked on.

After the short welcome ceremony Kim got into an armoured Mercedes which arrived with him aboard the train to visit a nearby hydro power station.

He took a keen interest in the Bureiskaya power station as Kremlin envoy Ishayev and the local governor gave him a tour of the plant, a regional official said.

"The Bureiskaya power station has a lot to be proud of," the official said, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity.

Kim's visit is shrouded in secrecy and unprecedented security measures were being taken to ensure Kim's safety during his journey.

While Kim toured the power station, his entourage cleaned and polished his armoured train parked at Bureya, a tiny economically depressed town on Russia's eastern fringes.

Russian officials told locals from several residential buildings near the railway station to stay away from the windows and warned them against attempts to take pictures of Kim's train.

Kim, known to dislike air travel for security reasons, crossed the Tumangan river into Russia on Saturday.

The leader, who at home enjoys a personality cult bordering on religion, did not even disembark at Khasan Station for Saturday's welcome ceremony instead allowing Russian officials to greet him aboard his train, Alexander Naryzhny, head of Khasan district, told AFP.

The Kremlin on Saturday released a terse statement confirming his arrival, saying a summit between Kim and Medvedev would be the highlight of the visit. It did not provide further details but a Russian official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said that the summit was scheduled for "mid-week".

The meeting is widely expected to take place in the eastern Siberian city of Ulan Ude near Lake Baikal in the Buddhist region of Buryatia some 5,550 kilometres (3,450 miles) east of Moscow.

Kim last travelled to the Cold War ally in 2002 when he met then president Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok.

The visit is Kim's third to Russia in a decade and comes as his country of 24 million people battles acute food shortages and isolation.

North Korea's heir apparent appeared to be absent from Kim's entourage, according to a list announced earlier in the day by Pyongyang's state media.

A large group of government and military officials were accompanying Kim including Defence Minister Kim Yong-Chun, vice premier Kang Sok-Ju and Jang Song-Thaek, the leader's brother-in-law and vice head of the powerful National Defence Commission, said Korean Central News Agency.

But Jong-Un, the leader's youngest son and heir apparent, was not listed in the official delegation.

© 2011 AFP

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