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North Korean general cracks joke about U.S. President Bush at military talks with South

A North Korean general cracked a joke about U.S. President George W. Bush at the start of military talks Tuesday with South Korea that takes aim at president's unpopularity for being mired in the Iraq war and other issues.

"I read a political joke, called 'Saving the President,' on a U.S. Internet site a while ago," Lt. Gen. Kim Yong Chol told his South Korean counterpart as they opened three days of meetings at the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone dividing the Koreas, according to pool reports.

"U.S. President Bush, distressed by the Iraq issue, Iran, the Afghanistan issue and the Korean peninsula nuclear issue, went on a morning jog," Kim began, telling the joke of Bush narrowly avoiding being hit by a car while running by high school students who grab his arm to save him.

As told by Kim, the grateful Bush asks one student if he can do anything in return, and the student asks to go to a U.S. military academy and be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Asked why, the student says his parents would kill him if they knew he saved Bush.

Kim's South Korean counterpart, Maj. Gen. Jeong Seung-jo, told Kim that he believes the existence of such a joke about Bush means the United States is an advanced democracy, saying such jokes are banned in many countries.

North Korea is one of those countries and tolerates no criticism of leader Kim Jong Il, who rules the nation's poverty-stricken 23-million population with a strong cult of personality. Access to outside media such as the Web is also strictly limited only to the top elite.

The two Koreas are holding three days of military talks through Thursday aimed at agreeing on security arrangements for historic test runs of trains across their heavily fortified border.