North Korea congress: Kim Jong-un's sister given key post

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John Sudworth reports: "This is politics as religious devotion"

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's sister has been given a key post at the country's rare ruling party congress.

Kim Yo-jong, believed to be in her 20s, joins the ruling committee.

The country's first Workers' Party Congress in 36 years ended on Monday, with Kim Jong-un becoming party chairman and cementing his rule.

One of those given several new posts is Ri Yong-gi. South Korean intelligence said earlier this year he had been purged and executed for corruption.

Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans joined a rally in Pyongyang to mark the end of the congress.

Propaganda role

The Korean Central News Agency, the North's state media, said Kim Yo-jong had been elected to the Workers' Party of Korea's Central Committee.

Image source, Alamy
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Yo-jong was seen in the background in this March 2015 picture of her brother touring a military unit
Image source, Reuters
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Kim Jong-un (right) at Monday's parade. He has been named party chairman
Image source, Reuters
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Hundreds of thousands attended the Pyongyang parade

Ms Kim has frequently appeared alongside her brother at public events.

She did so again for a while on Monday as her 33-year-old older brother, wearing a traditional dark jacket buttoned up to the collar, smiled and waved to the crowds.

The confirmation of her new title had been widely expected.

She is already influential as vice-director of the propaganda and agitation department.

Ri Yong-gi had disappeared in February, leading to speculation he had fallen foul of the leadership.

But he has now been mentioned again in the media, underscoring the difficulty in following developments in the secretive North.

Hundreds of thousands of people, waving pink paper flowers, coloured balloons and red party flags, marched through the square in the capital, Pyongyang. The parade also featured floats, some of them carrying mock-ups of missiles.

At the scene: Stephen Evans, BBC News, Pyongyang

Numbers at the rally are hard to estimate but I counted blocks of marchers 50 people wide and 50-plus people long passing for an hour, some goose-stepping holding red banners.

There were tightly choreographed displays of flag waving. Others were in civilian clothes, the women in traditional Korean dress and the men in suits with a collar and tie.

These did not march but leapt and bounded along the square, cheering ecstatically and gazing up at the balcony behind which Kim Jong-un sat or stood.

We asked them why they were so ecstatic. The answer, invariably, was that they were so happy to see the elevation of Marshal Kim Jong-un to the chairmanship of the Workers' Party.

It's very hard to know what people think. It may be a mixture. Unobtrusively I watched the faces of some North Koreans I know and their ecstasy seemed genuine. But that doesn't mean the people aren't also oppressed: numerous accounts by defectors and the absence of meaningful elections indicate they are.

More than 100 foreign reporters have been granted visas to cover the congress, although only a few were, briefly, allowed in to watch the meeting.

On Monday, three BBC journalists were expelled from the country for reporting which had angered the authorities.

Correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes was detained on Friday and interrogated for eight hours, before being made to sign a statement of apology. He and his colleagues left on Monday.

The BBC said it was disappointed by North Korea's decision.

The congress, which began on Friday, launched a new five-year plan for the economy, which has been hit by some of its strongest sanctions yet after the country's recent nuclear and rocket tests.

Mr Kim also used a speech to say the North would not use its nuclear weapons unless its sovereignty was threatened.

China has sent a message of congratulations to Mr Kim on his new position, though it declined to send a representative to the gathering.

Analysts suggested this may be because of unhappiness with recent indications that Pyongyang is preparing to conduct its fifth nuclear test.