North Korea's New Leader Makes Unprecedented Speech

Kim Jong Un speaks to huge crowd in televised address

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un

North Koreans and the world, for the first time, heard the country's new, young leader, Kim Jong Un, speak in public Sunday.

He addressed the crowd in central Pyongyang gathered for a military parade marking the 100th birth anniversary of the country's founder and "eternal president" Kim Il Sung.

Tanks trailed goose-stepping soldiers, some bedecked with medals, and pointing their rifles forward, past a reviewing stand where North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong Un, who is the grandson of Kim Il Sung, saluted back.

In a clear indication of power consolidation by a third generation Kim, the crowd repeatedly chanted the name of Kim Jong Un.

Shortly before the formal parade began, marking 100 years since the birth of the late Kim Il Sung, the new leader made his first public speech, carried live on North Korean television.

Kim sent greetings to "compatriots in South Korea and across the world who dedicate themselves to reunification and prosperity of the nation." Kim also said he is heartbroken that the Korean peninsula has remained divided for decades.

Kim, slightly swaying throughout his 20-minute speech, continuously looked down at his text but paused frequently for bursts of applause.

His remarks came just two days after the reclusive and impoverished nation failed in what it claimed was an attempt to launch a satellite into space. The launch was widely condemned by the international community as a violation of United Nations' resolutions barring North Korea from utilizing ballistic missile technology. The South Korean and U.S. militaries termed it a failed launch of a Taepodong-2 missile.

Kim appeared to make an oblique reference to Friday's explosion of the multi-stage rocket, which occurred less than two minutes into its flight. Kim said what “we trust is not modern arms, such as rockets and cannons, but rather our beloved military soldiers and commanders.”

One contrast surely noted by the people of North Korea is that Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, who ruled for 17 years until his death last December, spoke only once in public and that was just a single sentence.

North Korea announced last week Kim Jong Un had been named first secretary of the country's only political party and first chairman of the National Defense Commission, which is North Korea's top governing agency.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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