N.Korea’s Kim receives bread-and-salt welcome in Russia
North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong Il and his wife received a red carpet welcome Sunday in Russia's Amur region where they toured a giant power station ahead of talks with President Dmitry Medvedev.
It was the second day of Kim’s week-long visit to the Russian Far East and Siberia, a rare trip out of his country battling isolation and hunger.
Earlier on Sunday his special 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 slightly tired as flag-waving locals greeted him at the station.
Sporting sunglasses and his trademark khaki-coloured 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.
“He is rather simple, seems to be a genial man,” gushed a young Russian woman in the national dress, speaking later in televised remarks.
After the short welcome ceremony Kim got into an armoured Mercedes, which he brought with him on the train, to visit a nearby hydro-power station.
He appeared to take 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.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing pictures taken at the plant, said 47-year-old Kim Ok — a former secretary known as Kim’s fourth wife — was accompanying the leader on the journey.
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.
“Inexhaustible is the strength of the Russian people who occupied Bureya nature,” the official Korean Central News Agency quoted Kim as saying in the visitor’s book.
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 operates the power plant, said her company was not currently holding any talks with North Korea about any possible construction of power stations.
While Kim toured the power station, his entourage cleaned and polished his armoured train parked at Bureya, a tiny economically depressed town near the city of Blagoveshchensk on Russia’s eastern fringes.
After returning from the station he continued his journey along the famed Trans-Siberian railway.
Later in the week, possibly on Tuesday, 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 his safety during the journey.
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 disembark for Saturday’s welcome ceremony at Khasan Station near the North Korean border. Instead, he allowed Russian officials to greet him on board his train, Alexander Naryzhny, head of Khasan district, told AFP.
Kim last travelled to the Cold War ally in 2002 when he met then president Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok.