The Pyongyang Touch phone has replaced the television as the must-have status symbol in the crackpot country
IMPOVERISHED North Koreans are bankrupting themselves to pay £530 for an iPhone 3 rip-off that can’t call abroad or access the internet.
That’s enough to buy a ton of rice in a nation where many of Kim Jong-un’s subjects are on the breadline.
Whole families are clubbing together to buy the Pyongyang Touch phone which is now the must-have status symbol in the country.
And they are popular with university students desperate to show off their wealth.
On top of the expensive price-tag residents also need cash to bribe local officials to make sure their application for a phone is rubber-stamped.
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The handsets are said to be made by home-grown technology but are probably imported Chinese models rebranded for the North Korean market.
The online newspaper NK Daily reported: “Sources indicate that university students purchase cell phones despite the cost as a way of showing off.
“As the private economy in North Korea continues to grow, it’s becoming more common to judge people by their wealth, so even poorer families try to pool their money to buy a phone to share.”
A defector said in the past TVs and DVD players were the must-have items.
The paper said: “She told me that televisions and ‘recorders’ (VHS, CD and DVD players) attracted interest in the past, but cell phones are the number one product now. Only locals know if you have a TV at home.
“But everyone in the street sees if you have a cell phone, so people tend to buy that before they buy a TV.”
But citizens must jump through hoops to receive permission to buy a phone in the dictatorship.
The report continued: “For a subscription application, the user has to receive approval from both the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of People’s Security.
“Then the user has to get a signature from the local police. The procedures are strict and difficult.
“Getting all of the signatures requires bribes, so that raises the cost of phone ownership in North Korea.
“Connecting a new cell phone usually requires about one carton of “Cat” brand cigarettes and a nice bottle of alcohol as bribes.
“On the application form, the subscriber needs to write their name, date of birth, gender, job, name of factory assignment, house phone number, and resident’s number.”
The closed phone network is run by Egyptian company Orascom, which claims to have 3.7 million subscribers out of a population of 25 million.
In March 2011, there were just 530,000 users.
This comes after North Korea successfully carried out a new medium to long range ballistic missile test last week.
The test is believed to have furthered the hermit kingdom’s ICBM program – which are long range missile capable of carrying nukes which could the US mainland.
South Korea’s new president Moon Jae-in has warned of a “high possibility” of war with North Korea after the secretive state latest missile test.
He said: “The reality is that there is a high possibility of a military conflict at the NLL (Northern Limit Line) and military demarcation line.
“We will sternly deal with the North, together with the international community.”
The new leader continued: “North Korea launched a missile four days ago and claims to have succeeded in launching an intermediate-range ballistic missile.
“Launching ballistic missiles is a serious provocation that violates UN Security Council resolutions, as well as being a serious challenge to global peace and stability. We will never tolerate such North Korean provocations and nuclear threats.”
The comments came hours after the South said it wanted to reopen a channel of dialogue in a bid to rein in its rogue neighbour.
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