N.Korea's Kim receives bread-and-salt welcome in Russia
North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong Il received a red carpet welcome Sunday in Russia's Amur region where he toured a giant power station ahead of talks with President Dmitry Medvedev.
Kim on Saturday kicked off a week-long 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 and smiling Russian women dressed in red national costumes offered the high-profile guest a loaf of bread and salt in accordance with Russian tradition.
The 69-year-old leader looked serious and tired as flag-waving locals greeted him at the station.
Sporting sunglasses and his trademark khaki-colored military-style suit, Kim broke off a piece of bread as the 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 2,000 megawatt-strong Bureiskaya power station as Ishayev and the local governor gave him a tour of the plant.
At the power station -- the largest in Russia's Far East -- Kim was treated to a spectacular show of the water being discharged into the river, a local law enforcement official said.
He watched the water release from the safety of a white tent pitched at the station, next to a table with snacks, pies and a watermelon, and was also shown a film about the plant translated into Korean, the official said.
A Russian official familiar with the matter told AFP Kim had planned to visit the station earlier in the summer when he had been expected to hold a bilateral summit with Medvedev in or near Vladivostok.
A Kremlin official was quoted as saying at that time that Kim had cancelled due to media leaks about the visit.
Yelena Vishnyakova, a spokeswoman for state-run RusHydro which runs the power plant, said her company was currently not holding any talks with North Korea about any possible construction of power stations.
Any surplus electricity produced by the station goes to China, she said.
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.
After returning from the station he continued his journey along the famed Trans-Siberian railway.
Later in the week Kim is expected to meet Medvedev in the eastern Siberian city of Ulan Ude near Lake Baikal in the Buddhist region of Buryatia, 5,550 kilometres (3,450 miles) east of Moscow.
Kim's visit is shrouded in secrecy and unprecedented security measures were being taken to ensure Kim's safety during his journey.
Russian officials told locals from several residential buildings near the Bureya 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, he allowed Russian officials to greet him on board 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. A Russian official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said that the summit was scheduled for "mid-week".
Kim last travelled to the Cold War ally in 2002 when he met then president Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok.
© 2011 AFP