SEOUL — Scores of North Koreans have staged a rare public protest against power cuts and food shortages, a South Korean newspaper reported Wednesday.
“We can’t live! Give us light! Give us rice!” the protesters shouted, according to Chosun Ilbo newspaper which quoted a North Korean source.
It said the demonstrations took place at Jongju, Yongchon and Sonchon in the northwestern province of North Pyongan, two days before the birthday on February 16 of leader Kim Jong-Il.
“At first, there were only one or two people, but as time went by more and more came out of their houses and joined in the shouting,” the source said.
Open protests in the tightly-controlled communist state are rare, although a bungled currency revaluation in late 2009 reportedly sparked public unrest.
The State Security Department investigated the incident but was met with a wall of silence, the paper said.
Residents were angry because the regime had diverted already infrequent electricity supplies from the Jongju and Yongchon area to the capital Pyongyang to light up the night there to mark Kim’s birthday, the paper said.
Rice prices have also risen sharply in the North, which has suffered persistent serious food shortages since a famine in the 1990s.
Analysts, however, have played down the prospect of a popular revolt against the regime similar to those in North Africa and the Middle East.
Pyongyang tightly controls access to the Internet, and also attempts to block other sources of information about the outside world.
However a survey by two US academics of some 1,600 refugees from the North found that roughly half of them have access to foreign news or entertainment — a sharp rise from the 1990s.
But they said the country lacks labour, religious or other groups around which opposition could coalesce.
“I don’t see anything in civil society that would lead to a kind of Egyptian phenomenon,” said Stephan Haggard, one of the academics, at a Washington presentation last month.