(AFP) - North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong-Il inspected construction work on a hydro-electric power plant in his first public event of the new year, according to state media monitored Monday.
The Korean Central News Agency said Kim inspected the plant at Ryesonggang, near the border city of Kaesong, "to encourage the builders there in the New Year's drive."
The communist state suffers a chronic shortage of energy that is hobbling its economy, and agreed to a six-nation deal to abandon its nuclear weapons drive in return for aid equivalent to one million tons of fuel oil and other concessions.
Kim, who usually shuns publicity, has made a limited number of on-the-spot inspections to military units, farms and industrial sites to help boost morale and strengthen his grip on power.
Senior party officials and military generals accompanied Kim to visit the power plant, the news agency said. It did not say when the visit took place.
Since January 1 North Korea has stepped up its anti-US propaganda, lashing out at what it calls Washington's strong-arm tactics.
Under the disarmament deal, the North should have disabled its key nuclear facilities and given a full declaration of its nuclear programmes by December 31.
Last week Pyongyang said it was near to completing the disabling and had given a full account to the United States in November -- a claim Washington denied.
Pyongyang vowed in a New Year policy message to strengthen not only its 1.1-million military but also its economy in 2008, in a joint editorial in three major state-published newspapers.
They also highlighted a need to substantially improve living standards and grow more food, after a year when floods caused massive damage to harvests.
The North relies on international aid to feed its people.