Despite a deepening famine that forced the country to seek food aid from abroad, North Korea's isolation has persisted. Few reports of social unrest have emerged from the famine – but few reports of any kind are heard from North Korea, since journalists are seldom allowed to visit the country and never travel without government escorts. Cracks in the facade appeared in February, however, when Hwang Jang Yop, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Workers Party, defected to South Korea, becoming the highest-ranking official ever to flee the north.

In October, supreme leader Kim Jong Il rose to the post of Secretary General of the ruling Workers Party. The post had been vacant for more than three years, since the death of Kim's father, the country's founder, Kim Il Sung. Official media noted that strange natural events – such as cherry trees blossoming out of season – heralded Kim Jong Il's ascension. "The whole of Korea is replete with great joy and pleasure," the official Central News Agency noted.

The state news agency KCNA continues to post its official Web page, which is virtually the only voice of the North Korean government in the outside world. The site contains articles with such titles as "Independent Economy Hailed," and "Three Pillars in Devotedly Defending Leader," as well as calls for workers in capitalist South Korea to rise up in revolt.

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