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North Korea calls Kim Jong Un 'supreme leader'

Associated Press
Dec 29, 2011 at 03:03pm IST

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Pyongyang: North Korea declared Kim Jong Il's son and successor "supreme leader" of the ruling party, military and the people during a memorial on Thursday for his father in the government's first public endorsement of his leadership.

Kim Jong Un, head bowed and somber in a dark overcoat, stood on a balcony at the Grand People's Study House overlooking Kim Il Sung Square watching the memorial, which also served as a show of support for North Korea's next leader. He was flanked by top party and military officials, including Kim Jong Il's younger sister, Kim Kyong Hui, and her husband Jang Song Thaek, who are expected to serve as mentors of their young nephew.

Given Kim Jong Un's inexperience and age - he is in his late 20s - there are questions outside North Korea about whether he is equipped to lead a nation engaged in long-stalled negotiations over its nuclear program and grappling with decades of economic hardship and chronic food shortages.

North Korea calls Kim Jong Un 'supreme leader'

Given Kim Jong Un's inexperience and age there are questions about whether he is equipped to lead the nation.

But support among North Korea's power brokers was unequivocal at the memorial service, attended by hundreds of thousands of people filling Kim Il Sung Square and other plazas in central Pyongyang.

"The fact that he completely resolved the succession matter is Great Comrade Kim Jong Il's most noble achievement," Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, told the massive audience at the square.

"Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un is our party, military and country's supreme leader who inherits great comrade Kim Jong Il's ideology, leadership, character, virtues, grit and courage," said Kim, considered North Korea's ceremonial head of state.

Thursday's memorial "was an event to publicly reconfirm and solidify" Kim Jong Un's status, said Jeung Young-tae, an analyst with the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, South Korea.

"Kim Jong Un is already the leader of the party, military and country," he said.

Life in the North Korean capital came to a standstill as a mourners blanketed the plaza from the Grand People's Study to the Taedong River for the second day of funeral ceremonies for the late leader.

Kim Jong Il, who led his 24 million people with absolute power for 17 years, died of a heart attack Dec. 17 at age 69, according to state media. He inherited power from his father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, who died of a heart attack in 1994, in what was the communist world's first hereditary succession.

Attention turned to Kim Jong Un after he was revealed last year as his father's choice among three known sons to carry the Kim dynasty into a third generation.

The process to groom him was rushed compared to the 20 years Kim Jong Il had to prepare to take over from his father, and relied heavily on the Kim family bloodline and legacy as guerrilla fighters and the nation's founders.

Kim Il Sung is North Korea's first and only president; he retains the title "Eternal President" even after his death.

Kim Jong Il held three main positions: chairman of the National Defense Commission, general secretary of the Workers' Party and supreme commander of the Korean People's Army.

According to the constitution, his position as chairman of the National Defense Commission makes him "supreme leader" of North Korea.

Kim Jong Un was made a four-star general last year and appointed a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party. Since his father's death, state media have bestowed on him a series of new titles signaling that his succession campaign was gaining momentum: Great Successor, Supreme Leader and Sagacious Leader.

"Kim Jong Il laid a red silk carpet, and Kim Jong Un only needs to walk on it," Jeung said.

Last weekend, the Workers' Party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, called on the younger Kim to step into his father's role as supreme commander of the armed forces.

Kim also must formally assume command of the Workers' Party and become chairman of the party's Central Military Commission, said Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor at Korea University in South Korea.

The military will dedicate itself to protecting Kim Jong Un, the "supreme leader of our revolutionary armed forces," Gen. Kim Jong Gak, first vice director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People's Army, said at the memorial.

The aftermath of Kim Jong Il's death has been watched closely for clues about who in the military and Workers' Party will form Kim's inner circle of trusted aides during the sensitive transition to leadership.

During the mourning period, the young Kim made at least five visits to his father's begonia-bedecked bier when the late leader was lying in state at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, accompanied at times by his father's confidantes.

Following right behind Kim during a Wednesday funeral procession through Pyongyang streets with Kim Jong Il's hearse was his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, who is a vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission and has family ties to the military.

On the other side of the hearse was Ri Yong Ho, vice marshal of the Korean People's Army, and other top military officials.

Kim Jong Il's two other sons, Kim Jong Nam and Kim Jong Chol, were not spotted at either the funeral or memorial.

For Thursday's memorial, North Koreans packed the main square as well as the plaza in front of a Workers' Party monument of a hammer, sickle and writing brush.

Flags at half-staff fluttered in the wind on the cold winter's day, and people were bundled up in parkas. State TV showed a delegation of foreigners attending the memorial.

They bowed their heads as eight artillery guns fired; military officers removed their hats while the booms resonated across Kim Il Sung Square.

The streets went still again for a three-minute period of silence. Heads bowed, workers paused next to a green train and bystanders stopped where they were, some standing next to their bicycles, as trains and boats sirens blew their horns, according to state media.

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