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North Korea stops public transit for 3 days on founder’s birth holiday

North Korea ordered all public transportation to stop for three days in observance of the April 15 birth anniversary of the country’s late founder, angering some citizens who rely on buses and other services to get around and conduct business, sources in North Korea told RFA.

“From the day before the Day of the Sun through yesterday, authorities in Unsan county completely restricted the operation of state-owned transportation, including buses, taxis and motorcycles,” a resident of South Pyongan province, north of the capital Pyongyang, told RFA’s Korean Service on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“With every major national anniversary, the authorities will do things like strengthening security and holding political events and lectures, but this is the first time they are trying to control the people by shutting off public transit,” she said.

Kim Il Sung (1912-1994), the grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un, was born on April 15, and his birthday is celebrated every year as a major holiday called the “Day of the Sun.” Kim Il Sung’s son and successor, Kim Jong Il (1942-2011), was born on Feb. 16, the “Day of the Shining Star.”

The two holidays solidify the cult of personality surrounding the Kim family, which has now ruled North Korea for three generations.

April 15 this year would have been Kim Il Sung’s 110th birthday, and authorities stopped all buses and taxis nationwide for three days to try to encourage citizens to attend political events to celebrate the day, sources said.

Authorities wanted to push residents to attend a people’s rally to show support for the party ideology and to rededicate their loyalty to the leadership, but North Koreans have responded coolly to the measure, the source said.

“Public transportation services completely stopped for political events to commemorate the Day of the Sun, but the merchants who rely on public transit to transport goods from one market to another had no avenue to complain about their difficulties,” she said.

The stoppage of public transit in the northwestern province of North Pyongan was designed to reduce the risks anyone would attempt to disrupt political events there, a resident of the province told RFA on condition of anonymity to speak freely.

“Residents who are unable to travel for three days had no choice but to go to the political events, starting with the special assembly on the day before the Day of the Sun,” she said.

On the Day of the Sun, the people laid flowers in offering to Kim Il Sung at the Tower of Eternal Life, a landmark in the border city of Sinuiju, after which they celebrated with a public dance ceremony, the second source said. The following day, they attended a political event where they rededicated their allegiance to Kim Jong Un.

“The people were exhausted from going to these events, and it took them away from their jobs, which they need to put food on the table,” she said.

In addition to turning off public transit, authorities cut civilian phone communications between North Pyongan and the capital Pyongyang during the three-day period, the second source said. She tried to call the cell phone of her acquaintance in Pyongyang, but could not get through until April 17.

Translated by Claire Lee and Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.