North Korea names Pak Pong-ju cabinet chief

North Korea has named former premier Pak Pong-ju, a key confidant of the leadership dynasty who was sacked in 2007 for failing to implement economic reforms, as its cabinet chief, further cementing the ruling family’s grip on power.

The move came as tensions ratcheted higher on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened war and the United States flew in stealth bombers.

Mr Pak, believed to be in his 70s, is a key ally of Jang Song-thaek, uncle of current ruler Kim Jong-un, and worked for Mr Jang’s wife, Kyong-hui, the last remaining personal link to the state’s revolutionary founder, Kim Il-sung, grandfather of Kim Jong-un.

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“Deputy Choe Yong-rim was recalled from the post of premier of the DPRK cabinet and Deputy Pak Pong-ju was elected premier of the DPRK cabinet,” state news agency KCNA said yesterday, referring to a meeting of the rubber-stamp parliament.

DPRK is short for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Mr Pak’s re-emergence as premier marks a further move by Kim Jong-un to reaffirm his grip on power. However, the move leaves Mr Kim dependent on his aunt and uncle, who have reasserted control over the military.

“Pak Pong-ju works under the orders of Jang Song-thaek,” said Cho Bong-hyun, an expert on the North’s economy at Seoul’s IBK Economic Research Institute.

“Is Pak a reformer? Well, Jang is an economy-focused man and Jang is the person who has tried to make the economy the centrepiece for the leadership.”

Mr Pak took the post of premier in 2003 to implement an ambitious economic reform policy introduced in July 2002.

He was removed in 2007 when it became clear the moves – aimed at boosting the economy of the impoverished state, which was gripped by devastating famine in the 1990s – were not producing the desired results and the North’s military began protests at the cabinet, wielding greater power on state matters.