North Korea maintains defence spending after rocket flop

HOURS after a failed rocket launch criticised abroad as a covert test of missile technology, North Korea’s new leader underlined the country’s “military first” policy with a budget that allocates a sizeable chunk of funding to defence spending.

North Korea’s legislature also formalised Kim Jong Un’s leadership of the country and promoted a host of younger military officials to the powerful National Defence Commission yesterday in a strong indication that the “military first” rule of the late Kim Jong Il will continue under his young son.

Still, Premier Choe Yong Rim said the nation’s top priority is to build up the economy and improve the people’s standard of living, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

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North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly convened for a special one-day session to ratify appointments and promotions, discuss this year’s budget and to make constitutional amendments to formalise Kim Jong Un’s leadership.

Hours earlier, in a precursor to the gathering, North Korea defied the West by firing a long-range rocket that space officials said was mounted with an observational satellite despite warnings against pushing ahead with the provocative launch.

In a rare admission, North Korea announced on state TV that the launch was a failure, with the satellite failing to reach orbit.

International condemnation was swift, including the suspension of US food aid, and there are concerns that the North’s next move could be even more provocative: a nuclear test.

The UN Security Council denounced the launch as a violation of resolutions that prohibit North Korea from developing its nuclear and missile programmes. The council imposed sanctions on North Korea after its first nuclear test in 2006 and stepped up sanctions after its second in 2009.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the launch “deplorable” and urged North Korea “not to undertake any further provocative actions that will heighten tension in the region”.

President Barack Obama said North Korea’s failed rocket launch shows the country is wasting money on rockets that “don’t work” while its people go hungry. He said the US will work with other nations to “further isolate” North Korea.

North Korea spent an estimated £560 million to build the rocket and a new west coast launch pad, South Korea’s unification minister, Yu Woo-ik, said at a parliamentary hearing on Friday. The World Food Programme says at least six million North Koreans – a quarter of the population – need outside food aid.