Kim Yong Il visits Russian power plant

N.Korea’s Kim receives bread-and-salt welcome in Russia

BUREYA STATION, Russia - Agence France-Presse

North Korea’s reclusive leader Kim Jong Il on Sunday received a red carpet welcome in the Amur region where he also toured a hydro power station ahead of talks with President Dmitry Medvedev.

Kim on Saturday kicked off a week-long secrecy-wrapped visit to the Russian Far East and Siberia, a rare trip out of a country battling isolation and hunger.

 Earlier on Sunday his armored train arrived at the small Bureya station in the Amur region where smiling Russian women dressed in red national costumes offered the high-profile guest a loaf of bread and salt in accordance with Russian tradition.

The 69-year-old leader looked serious and tired and received help getting out of the train. Sporting sunglasses and his trademark khaki-colored military-style suit, Kim broke off a piece of bread as Kremlin’s regional envoy Viktor Ishayev and a throng of local officials looked on. After the short welcome ceremony Kim got into an armored Mercedes which arrived with him aboard the train to visit a nearby hydro power station. He took a keen interest in the Bureiskaya power station as Kremlin envoy Ishayev and the local governor gave him a tour of the plant, a regional official said.

Kim’s visit is shrouded in secrecy and unprecedented security measures were being taken to ensure Kim’s safety during his journey. While Kim toured the power station, his entourage cleaned and polished his armoured train parked at Bureya, a tiny economically depressed town on Russia’s eastern fringes. Kim, known to dislike air travel for security reasons, crossed the Tumangan river into Russia on Saturday. Kim last travelled to the Cold War ally in 2002 when he met then president Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok. The visit is Kim’s third to Russia in a decade and comes as his country of 24 million people battles acute food shortages and isolation.