News / Asia

North Korea Marks Late Leader's Birth Anniversary

North Koreans offer flowers to mark the birth anniversary of the North's late leader Kim Jong-Il at Kim Il-sung square in Pyongyang, in this photo taken by Kyodo, February 16, 2012.
North Koreans offer flowers to mark the birth anniversary of the North's late leader Kim Jong-Il at Kim Il-sung square in Pyongyang, in this photo taken by Kyodo, February 16, 2012.

North Korea is marking what would have been the 70th birthday of Kim Jong Il, who died in December. Amid muted celebrations, there is also praise for the late leader's son, Kim Jong Un, anointed as his father's successor.

Celebrating Kim Jong ll

The reclusive and impoverished country is using the occasion, officially renamed the "Day of the Shining Star," to stress the continuity of Kim family leadership and "turn sorrow into power and courage".

In an afternoon ceremony inside the just renamed Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun, the new leader, Kim Jong Un, led those paying respects to his father, bowing before a large photograph of Kim Jong Il.

Moments later, in front of the mausoleum, on a cold and windy day, he stood in a navy blue coat as troops on display shouted their loyalty to him.

Vice marshal Ri Yong Ho, addressed the military units on the occasion of what would have been Kim Jong Il's 70th birthday.

The chief of the army's general staff reminded the forces war could break out without warning and they must be ready to wipe out "U.S. imperialists and South Korean puppet traitors" to reunify the Korean peninsula.

The vice marshal also says that Kim Jong Il, before his death, solved perfectly the succession issue.

Praises offered to the new leader

During a military parade, goose-stepping troops, including women, saluted as they marched in front of a smiling Kim Jong Un. North Korea, meanwhile, has begun broadcasting a new song praising its new leader.

The lyrics proclaim that the people will defend with their lives their "supreme commander," General Kim Jong Un.

Professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul says this is all meant to elevate Kim Jong Un to the same level as his late father.

The professor says the strategic significance is clearly that North Korea will continue to emphasize military-first politics under the third generation of the Kim family.

Rank elevation, generalissimo

North Korea announced this week that Kim Jong Il had been posthumously elevated to the rank of generalissimo. Until now, Kim Il Sung was the only one holding that title, bestowed on him just before his 80th birthday in 1992.

Some analysts predict the move to elevate Kim Jong Il's rank after his death will clear the way for Kim Jong Un, who is believed to be in his late 20s, to be promoted to marshal, further consolidating his authority over all of North Korea's military forces.

Kim Jong Un is already a four-star general, despite having no previous military experience.

In South Korea, a group of defectors marked the day by launching, across the border, balloons carrying 140,000 leaflets. The pamphlets sent airborne by the defectors call for their former compatriots to fight against a third-generation "transfer of dictatorship" in North Korea.

The North considers the balloons a provocative act and has repeatedly vowed to retaliate against such launches.

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