North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his people must pursue economic improvement with the same urgency scientists put into the launch of a long-range rocket.
In a speech, Kim said boosting living standards was the new year’s most important task – but he also called for the development of more advanced weapons.
He also called for a “revolution” in science and technology and more amusement parks.
North Korea struggles to grow enough food for its 24 million people.
Last year saw plunging inter-Korean ties, the collapse of a US-North Korean food-aid-for-nuclear-freeze deal and two North Korean long-range rocket launches that Washington and others called covers for banned ballistic missile tests.
Kim took over after his father Kim Jong Il’s death on December 17 2011.
The speech was the first televised New Year's Day message by a North Korean leader in 19 years. North Korea founder Kim Il Sung routinely addressed his people on New Year's Day, but Kim Jong Il never gave a TV address during his 17-year rule. During his leadership, the New Year's message was published as a joint editorial in the nation's three major newspapers.
North Korea also had its first grand New Year’s Eve celebration, including the boom of cannons and fireworks at midnight in Pyongyang.
The speech was a clear acknowledgement that North Koreans want improvement in an economy that has long lagged behind the rest of north-east Asia. North Korea has little arable land, is prone to natural disasters and struggles to grow enough food for its 24 million people.
The speech itself was also a signal that Kim will continue with a leadership style more in line with his gregarious grandfather Kim Il Sung than with his father Kim Jong Il, who avoided making public speeches.
Early in Kim Jong Un’s first year, Pyongyang negotiated a deal with Washington for food aid in exchange for a nuclear freeze, but it collapsed after North Korea attempted to shoot a rocket into space in April.
The rocket failed shortly after lift-off, but a successful second attempt on December 12 helped Kim gain crucial political and popular support in his country.
North Korea hailed the launch as a big step in peaceful space exploration. Washington and others called the launch a banned test of ballistic missile technology.
Governments are also worried by recent analysis of North Korea’s main nuclear test site that indicates readiness for a possible third atomic explosion. North Korea has tested two atomic devices since 2006, both times weeks after United Nations’ condemnation of a long-range launch.
The annual New Year’s Day message lays out North Korea’s policy goals for the year. The need for a better economy and improvements in science and technology were major elements.
Kim made no mention of North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, the issue that most worries Washington, but he did seek to glorify – and link to the economy - the successful rocket launch.
North Korea’s slogan for the year, Kim said, should be: “Let us bring about a radical turn in the building of an economic giant with the same spirit and mettle as were displayed in conquering space!”
In Pyongyang, people danced in the snow at midnight to celebrate the end of a big year for North Korea, including the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung and the first year of Kim Jong Un’s leadership.
Fireworks lit up the cold sky, and people stood in fur-lined parkas, taking photos and laughing and dancing with each other in plazas.
Kim Jong Un tried in his speech to tap into North Koreans’ fond memories of Kim Il Sung, said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in South Korea.
The rocket launch boosted morale, he said. “Now people are expecting him to improve the economy and help them live better economically. Kim Jong Un knows that and feels the pressure of meeting that demand.”
Kim’s speech avoided harsh criticism of the United States, its wartime enemy. North Korea has used past new year editorials to accuse the US of plotting war.