North Koreans enjoy the lowest levels of freedom in the world, according to Freedom House's rankings. Kim Jong Il, who assumed power in 1994 upon the death of his father, North Korea's founding leader Kim Il Sung, retains all political power. The regime maintains a network of prison camps in which thousands of political prisoners are subjected to brutal conditions. All facets of a person's life -- including employment, education, place of residence, access to medical facilities, and access to stores -- are determined by a semihereditary system of social discrimination that classifies citizens into 53 subgroups based on their family's perceived loyalty to the regime. In late 2009, the government revaluated its currency and restricted the amount of old notes that individuals could exchange, effectively wiping out many citizens' cash savings. The move was part of a bid to crack down on private trading and bolster state controls on the economy. Here, North and South Korea soldiers stand guard at the border.
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