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Kim Jong Il Makes Appearance at Parliament Session

  • Kurt Achin

North Korean members of parliament have opened a new legislative session by formally re-appointing Kim Jong Il the leader of the country. State television showed the North Korean leader attending the session, Thursday, ending months of absence from public view.

Intelligence agencies believe the North Korean leader suffered a stroke in the middle of last year. Until Thursday, he had all but disappeared from public view. Mr. Kim's previously stout image appears visibly leaner.

A North Korean newsreader announced Mr. Kim remains firmly in charge of the country.

She says Kim Jong Il has been re-appointed as chairman of the country's National Defense Commission.

The appointment was the first order of business Thursday at the North's legislature, a ceremonial body which exists mainly to approve dictates from the central communist party. The title of Defense Commission Chairman effectively makes Mr. Kim leader of a government that teaches children to worship the Kim family from birth.

North Korea's launch of a long-range rocket this week was seen by many observers as a means to rally public sentiment behind the 67-year-old leader, and help him reassert the perception that he remains healthy and in charge.

North Korean television has been showing mass rallies which took place Wednesday to celebrate the launch.

Choe Tae Bok, secretary of the North's ruling party, tells tens of thousands of people at the gathering the launch was a "historical victory over other countries, and the fruit of wisdom and talent."

Brian Myers, a specialist in North Korean political propaganda at South Korea's Dongseo University, says even under the North's authoritarian system, building public support is crucial.

"I think many people in the West seem to mistake North Korea for a sort of 1984, East Germany-style 24-7 surveillance state. And it really isn't. It doesn't have either the financial means or the technological means," he said.

Scholars like Myers say the big question in the days ahead is what if any changes the North's leader will make in the structure of the government. Such changes could suggest Kim Jong Il may be clearing the way for a future successor.

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