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December 2011

North Korea, 2005

North Korea, 2005

North Korea, also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, roughly encompasses an area the same size as the U.S. state of Mississippi (120,540 sq km). North Korea is located in Eastern Asia, bordered by the Republic of Korea (South Korea) to the south, China to the north and northwest, and Russia to the northeast. An independent kingdom for much of its long history, Korea was occupied by Japan beginning in 1905 following the Russo-Japanese War. Five years later, Japan formally annexed the entire peninsula. Following World War II, Korea was split with the northern half (above 38°00' North latitude) coming under Soviet-sponsored Communist domination.

The terrain is mainly hills and high mountains separated by deep, narrow valleys and small, cultivated plains. The remainder is lowland plains covering small, scattered areas. North Korea has long, cold, dry winters and short, hot, humid summers. North Korea’s major natural resources include coal, copper, fluorspar, gold, graphite, iron ore, lead, magnesite, pyrites, salt, tungsten, and zinc. Water is an important source of hydroelectric power generation.

The Korean Peninsula was first populated by peoples of a Tungusic branch of the Ural-Altaic language family, who migrated from the northwestern regions of Asia. Some of these peoples also populated parts of northeast China (Manchuria); Koreans and Manchurians still show physical similarities. Koreans are racially and linguistically homogeneous. Although there are no indigenous minorities in North Korea, there is a small Chinese community (about 50,000) and some 1,800 Japanese wives who accompanied the roughly 93,000 Koreans returning to the North from Japan between 1959 and 1962. Although dialects exist, the Korean spoken throughout the peninsula is mutually comprehensible. In North Korea, the Korean alphabet (hangul) is used exclusively.

North Korea is a Communist country and has so far maintained a system of hereditary succession. Kim Jong Il inherited North Korea's leadership from his father Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994. In September 2010, Kim Jong Il named his youngest son Kim Jong Un as his successor. On December 17, 2011, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Il died.

CIA World Factbook; U.S. State Department Background Notes; LoC Country Studies; Voice of America, 11/2011; 10/2011; 2008; 12/2011

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