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North Korean Leader, Heir Apparent Appear at Military Parade

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il (3rd R) and his son Kim Jong-un (L) watch a military parade in Pyongyang's central square, September 9, 2011.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il (3rd R) and his son Kim Jong-un (L) watch a military parade in Pyongyang's central square, September 9, 2011.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il appeared to be in relatively good health as he looked down on a massive military parade Friday in central Pyongyang. His son and heir apparent was also on the reviewing stand as the reclusive state celebrated the 63rd anniversary of its founding.

Thousands of members of North Korea’s second-tier reserve force, the Worker-Peasant Red Guards, marched in goose-step as they carried rifles and rocket launchers while military trucks loaded with missiles paraded through Kim Il Sung Square in central Pyongyang.

North Korean television broadcast the scene live as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea celebrated the 63rd anniversary of its inception.

The state TV announcer says the square “is filled with endless joy and everyone is immensely excited during this successful military parade honoring General Secretary of the Korea Worker’s Party and Supreme Commander of the Revolutionary Force, Dear Leader Kim Jong Il.”

Observers say a parade for this anniversary comes as a surprise because normally such reviews are held every fifth anniversary of an important date.

Gazing down on it all were the son and grandson of the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung. It was the first such father-and-son appearance since a similar parade last year on the anniversary of the founding of the country’s only political party.

Near the end of the parade, the crowd, carrying pink artificial flowers, began chanting the name of Kim Jong Il, the founder’s son and current leader.

Thousands shout praise towards Kim and chant “mansei” the traditional cheer for long life.

Kim, wearing his usual khaki Mao suit and sunglasses, slowly moved across the reviewing stand, pausing several times to return the applause and wave to the soldiers and civilians below.

For North Korea watchers, it was a rare opportunity for an extended real-time look at the 69-year-old leader.

When he entered the reviewing stand, Kim walked with a slight limp, apparently the result of the reported stroke three years ago that affected the left side of his body.

He was accompanied by his third son and presumed successor, Kim Jong Un, who is in his late 20’s and spent some of his school years in Switzerland. He stood stiffly in a dark Mao suit except when applauding the troops or listening to something his father was telling him.

The younger Kim was named a top party leader and four-star general last year, despite no known previous military service. Official news dispatches Friday from Pyongyang listed his name above all others who accompanied the country’s leader at the event.

That is seen as an even more solid indication of his position as the eventual successor to his father.

Neither of the Kims spoke at the ceremony. That was left to the vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, Kim Yong Chun.

In a reference to the United States and South Korea, Kim, who is also the army chief of general staff, accused the enemy of conducting “reckless new war provocation maneuvers in a highly agitated state.” Any attempt to harm North Korea’s dignity or sovereignty, even a bit, he warned, would be answered with a merciless crushing and achieve “without fail” the reunification of the Korean peninsula.

In South Korea, dozens of refugees who escaped from the North, marked the day by helping to launch gas-filled balloons near the heavily fortified border to float several hundred thousand leaflets towards their native country. The leaflets call on the people of North Korea to rise against their leaders, citing what has occurred recently in Libya.

Most analysts hold few expectations of the likelihood of such an uprising. They cite the highly repressive nature of the state where, since North Korea’s inception, even the slightest suspicion of disloyalty can mean being sent for years or decades to labor camps or execution.