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And the situation has become so bad at one point police used weapons on residents protesting at the situation, an insider has claimed. Officially, the Hermit State – led by Kim Jong-un – has no cases of the disease – but the knock-on impact on the country’s economy is proving a worry in itself.
Major marketplaces across the region have already been closed down, piling pressure on people who earn most of their income from side businesses selling a range of everyday goods such as clothes, cooking oil, meat and other food, because they struggle to live on government-assigned jobs which pay a monthly salary averaging barely £4 a month.
As a result, so-called grasshopper markets, named after merchants who grab their goods and flee at the first sign of trouble, have become increasingly common – prompting the authorities to launch a crackdown on these as well.
A resident of Ryanggang, who requested anonymity to speak freely, told RFA’s Korean Service Sunday: “Authorities shut down marketplaces in the province starting May 15 as part of their coronavirus measures.
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“The authorities are stepping up their crackdown to prevent us from starting up grasshopper markets.”
Hyesan, the province’s capital had three official markets, in Hyesin, Wiyon and Ryonbong markets, all open for three hours a day.
However, the source added: “But now these have been closed and the authorities are now starting to crack down on businesses that try to defy the closure.
“As most of the residents make their living in marketplaces, residents are getting angry that the government is shutting them down.
“Authorities aren’t paying attention to the livelihood of residents that have become more difficult due to the coronavirus crisis.”
The source said: “When Wiyon market shut down, some of the merchants opened a grasshopper market in the alley, but the cops showed up and kicked them out.”
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“They made even grasshopper markets unavailable, so now there is friction between groups of inspectors and residents.”
Residents are also becoming suspicious of the government’s motives, the insider said.
They added: “Is it really due to the coronavirus or is it a trick to drive residents to rural mobilisation?”
Another resident of Ryanggang told a similar story.
They said: “Residents protest fiercely when the cops come in and shut down grasshopper markets.
“Some of the merchants who have to close down when the police come by end up getting in shouting matches and physical fights in the grasshopper market.
“Most of the residents are living from hand to mouth.
“And they became even more desperate when authorities made the decision to shut down the markets.
“There was even a small disturbance in which residents protested in groups against the police, who tried to suppress them by actually using weapons against them.”
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