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N. Korean elite apologize for construction accident

SEOUL--Senior North Korean officials have publicly apologized for an “unimaginable” accident at an apartment construction site, state media said Sunday, a rare admission of culpability by the secretive hardline state.

South Korean officials said the incident involved the collapse of a 23-story apartment building in Pyongyang's Pyongchon district, which already had close to 100 families in residence.

It is extremely unusual for the North to report negative news of this type, and its official KCNA news agency also reported equally rare apologies from top officials.

Leader Kim Jong Un “sat up all night, feeling painful” after being told about the accident, the agency said.

The accident happened last Tuesday and was the result of “irresponsible” supervision by officials in charge of construction, KCNA reported.

An intensive operation had been mounted to rescue survivors and treat the wounded, it said.

It did not give a figure for the number of dead or injured but said the accident left Pyongyang citizens “greatly shocked.”

The agency carried lengthy public apologies by senior officials including the Minister of People's Security, Choe Pu Il.

“(Choe) repented of himself, saying that he failed to find out factors that can put at risk the lives and properties of the people and to take thoroughgoing measures, thereby causing an unimaginable accident,” it said.

'Considerable death toll'

A South Korean official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the incident involved the collapse of a 23-story apartment complex.

“It is common in North Korea that people move into a new apartment building before construction officially ends,” the official told AFP.

The official said 92 families were believed to be living in the collapsed building, and the final death toll was likely to be “considerable.”

Among those making a public apology were Kim Su Gil, chief secretary of the city committee of the ruling Workers' Party.

He said Kim Jong Un had “instructed leading officials of the party, state and the army to rush to the scene, putting aside all other affairs and command the rescue operation.”

The state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper also published Sunday a rare photo of an unidentified official bowing deeply in apology toward hundreds of people who gathered at what appeared to be a construction site.

The rare official apology appears to be aimed at portraying Kim as a “sincere leader who pays great attention to public sentiment,” said Kim Yong-hyun, professor of North Korean studies at Seoul's Dongguk University.

The North in 2009 announced plans to build 100,000 new high-rise apartments in three districts of its showpiece capital to mark the 100th anniversary in 2012 of the birth of its founder Kim Il Sung, grandfather of the current leader.

The project went ahead despite chronic food shortages elsewhere in the impoverished nation.

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This Saturday, May 17 picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows a construction division officer apologizing to residents after a serious accident at the construction site of an apartment building in Phyongchon District, Pyongyang. (AFP)

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