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North Korea praises Kim for October 9 nuclear test

North Korea celebrates the first anniversary of its nuclear test on Tuesday. The test became another reason for North Koreans to praise their leader Kim Jong-il for pulling off a "truly great miracle" that sent the North "soaring as a powerful and great" nation.

The North's central Rodong Sinmun newspaper ran a lengthy editorial to mark the Oct. 9 nuclear test, imploring the poverty-stricken population of 23 million to rally around Kim, said the official Korean Central News Agency.

"Never forgettable are acclamations of October, 2006, when we shouted hurrah again and again at the top of our voices in admiration of General Kim Jong Il who unfolded an eternally clear sky of peace, prosperity and hope above the heads of the 70 million people," the paper said, referring to both North and South Koreans.

The nuclear test was a "truly great miracle," the paper said, sending the North "soaring as a powerful and great nation" at a time of hardship.

The nuclear test marked the climax in international concern over North Korea's nuclear program, and also prompted the U.S. to soften its policy toward Pyongyang and address a key North Korean demand over a banking dispute with Washington which had stalled negotiations over the program.

North Korea responded positively to the U.S. overture, promising in February to shut down and then disable its sole functioning nuclear reactor as a step toward its dismantlement in exchange for economic aid and political concessions from the U.S. and four other countries - China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

Pyongyang closed the Yongbyon reactor in July, and committed last week to disabling it and other facilities by year's end. A team of U.S. nuclear experts is scheduled to visit the North to survey the Yongbyon nuclear complex to help map out its disablement plan.

The improved relations between Pyongyang and Washington has led to the U.S. government deciding to ship heavy fuel oil to North Korea as part of the February shutdown deal, and separately offer food aid for the North. Washington also promised to take steps to take Pyongyang off its blacklist of countries sponsoring terrorism.

South Korea's presidential security adviser, Baek Jong-chun, said Monday that U.S. and North Korean officials are expected to meet in the near future to discuss details of the proposed food aid.

Buoyed by the progress in the nuclear issue, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun agreed at last week's summit with Kim to seek to replace the truce that ended the 1950-53 Korean War with a peace treaty, and pursue a meeting of leaders of parties to the cease-fire.