N. Koreans burn bills in anger over currency reform

SEOUL, South Korea — North Koreans set piles of old bills alight in anger over their government’s surprise move to redenominate the national currency, a report said, a sign of growing frustration among citizens left with hoards of worthless bills.

On Monday, the communist government informed citizens and foreign embassies that it would redenominate the national currency, the won. But it limited the maximum amount of old bills that could be converted into new ones, telling residents to deposit the rest in government-run banks, according to media reports and diplomats.

There are widespread doubts among North Koreans whether they would be able to get their money back, they said.

Angry citizens burned piles of old bills at two separate locations in the eastern coastal city of Hamhung on Monday, the Daily NK, a Seoul-based online news outlet that focuses on North Korean affairs, reported late Thursday, citing an unidentified North Korean resident.

It quoted the resident as saying he saw graffiti and leaflets criticizing North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in and around a college in Hamhung — a rare move in a country where the totalitarian government keeps tight control over its 24 million people.

However, a Tokyo-based newspaper considered a mouthpiece for the North’s government claimed Friday that North Koreans were praising the currency reform.

The Choson Sinbo cited the North’s central bank as saying the reform was aimed at boosting the country as a “socialist economic power.”

The new highest-denominated bill of 5,000 won features a portrait of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il’s late father, a photo published in the newspaper showed.

North Korea set the exchange rate at 100 old won to 1 new won. Initially, residents were only allowed to exchange 100,000 won per household for the new currency. But the government later increased the amount, allowing each family member to trade an additional 50,000 old won for new ones, according media reports.

The North Korean won was previously officially traded at 145 to the dollar, but more than 3,000 were needed to buy $1 on the black market, according to Dong Yong-sueng, a senior fellow at Samsung Economic Research Institute in Seoul.

The overhaul of the won — the most drastic in 50 years — appears aimed at curbing runaway inflation and clamping down on street markets that have sprung up. The government is also retaking control of the economy from the hands of merchants, analysts say.

Unable to feed its people, the government began allowing some markets in 2002, including farmers’ markets.

The markets have encouraged trade but have also sold banned goods such as movies and soap operas from rival South Korea, posing a threat to Kim’s totalitarian rule, analysts say. The country’s largest wholesale market in Pyongyang was reportedly shut down in mid-June.

The sudden redenomination sparked panic and despair among North Koreans, leading to the death of a man in a dispute over whether he should repay his debt in old bills or new ones. A merchant couple in their 60s also killed themselves in North Hamgyong Province after hearing of the currency revaluation, according to the Daily NK.

South Korean online media outlets specializing in North Korean affairs have reported the currency reform by citing North Korean residents.

Despite crackdowns, some North Koreans are able to use cell phones through Chinese communication networks to communicate with the outside world, mostly with South Koreans and Chinese, according to North Korean defectors who have resettled in South Korea.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman announces his retirement after 31 years of service at the Everett City Council meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett police chief to retire at the end of October

Chief Dan Templeman announced his retirement at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. He has been chief for nine years.

Boeing employees watch the KC-46 Pegasus delivery event  from the air stairs at Boeing on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Boeing’s iconic Everett factory tour to resume in October

After a three-year hiatus, tours of the Boeing Company’s enormous jet assembly plant are back at Paine Field.

A memorial for a 15-year-old shot and killed last week is set up at a bus stop along Harrison Road on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Teen boy identified in fatal shooting at Everett bus stop

Bryan Tamayo-Franco, 15, was shot at a Hardeson Road bus stop earlier this month. Police arrested two suspects.

Mike Bredstrand, who is trying to get back his job with Lake Stevens Public Works, stands in front of the department’s building on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Lake Stevens, Washington. Bredstrand believes his firing in July was an unwarranted act of revenge by the city. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Lake Stevens worker was fired after getting court order against boss

The city has reportedly spent nearly $60,000 on attorney and arbitration fees related to Mike Bredstrand, who wants his job back.

Chap Grubb, founder and CEO of second-hand outdoor gear store Rerouted, stands inside his new storefront on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Gold Bar, Washington. Rerouted began as an entirely online shop that connected buyers and sellers of used gear.  (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Used outdoor gear shop Rerouted finds a niche in Gold Bar

Seeking to keep good outdoor gear out of landfills, an online reselling business has put down roots in Gold Bar.

Naval Station Everett. (Chuck Taylor / Herald file)
Everett man sentenced to 6 years for cyberstalking ex-wife

Christopher Crawford, 42, was found guilty of sending intimate photos of his ex-wife to adult websites and to colleagues in the Navy.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers speaks to the crowd during an opening ceremony at the new PAE2 Amazon Fulfillment Center on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Snohomish County executive pitches $1.66B budget

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers announced his proposed budget Tuesday afternoon. Public comment is slated to begin Oct. 10.

Jamel Alexander, center, listens as a Snohomish County jury records their verdict of guilty, in the murder of Shawna Brune, on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 in Everett, Washington.  Alexander was convicted in the first degree murder of Brune. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Appeals court orders new trial in Everett woman’s stomping death

Appellate judges ruled that additional evidence should have been admitted in Jamel Alexander’s trial for the murder of Shawna Brune.

Kristy Carrington, CEO of Providence Swedish of North Puget Sound, speaks during a Healthcare Summit at Everett Community College on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Providence, Optum and Premera discuss challenges at Everett summit

Five panelists spoke on labor shortages, high costs and health care barriers Wednesday at Everett Community College.

Most Read