North Korea has opened a department store in its capital offering luxury goods for the ruling elite to try to bolster loyalty before a second dynastic succession, officials and reports said Monday.
The store named Potongkang opened in February, selling imported high-end brands such as Chanel and Giorgio Armani as well as medicine, furniture and food, a South Korean government official said on condition of anonymity.
The store forms part of the isolated North's project to give its showpiece capital a facelift, even though much of the country suffers severe food shortages. UN agencies say a quarter of the population urgently needs food aid.
The capital's new look is intended for completion before the 100th anniversary in April of the birth of founding president Kim Il-Sung. The regime has set the goal of becoming a "great, powerful and prosperous nation" by then.
Leader Kim Jong-Il engages in "gift politics" by showering top aides and the elite with luxury goods to win loyalty to his ruling family, Seoul analysts say.
Kim has speeded up plans for an eventual second dynastic succession since he suffered a stroke in August 2008. His youngest son was given senior party posts in September last year, confirming his status as leader-in-waiting.
South Korean newspapers said Kim had ordered his staff to improve life for privileged residents in the capital by prioritising the supply of drinking water, heating and power.
When the communist North received 50,000 tons of food assistance from Russia in August, Kim ordered that 40,000 tons be allotted to Pyongyang citizens, Dong-A Ilbo newspaper said.
High-rise apartment buildings, theatres and parks have been built in Pyongyang and old street lights and neon signs have been replaced, it said.
In October, the North said it had built a public service complex featuring equipment for bathing, haircuts and beauty treatment and an outdoor ice rink.
College students and soldiers have been drafted in to help with construction, which was dogged by lack of funds and building materials.
In contrast to the capital's amenities, residents of other regions have electric power only for one to four hours daily, Dong-A said.