North Korea’s heir debuts at giant military parade

Secretive North Korea’s leader-in-waiting, the youngest son of ailing ruler Kim Jong-il, took centre stage during a massive military parade on Sunday, appearing live for the first time in public.

Kim Jong-un stood near his father on the dais, clapping and saluting thousands of goose-stepping soldiers, and reviewing missiles, tanks and artillery rockets.

The young Kim’s prominent role at the parade in Pyongyang’s Kim Il-sung Square marked his military ‘coming out’ and served to boost his standing in one of the the world’s largest armies.

Until his own appointment as a general last month — along with his naming to a key political post — little was known about the young Kim other than that he was educated in Switzerland.

State television broadcast the parade live, giving North Koreans their first real look at their next leader, known only to be his mid-to-late 20s.

The young Kim, the third son of the ailing leader, is poised to continue dynastic rule in the isolated state which has worried the world with its plans to develop nuclear weapons.

Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il (68) is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008. But he has shown no sign of losing his grip on power and was reappointed last month as secretary general of the ruling Workers’ Party.

A stable succession would be a relief to North Korea’s economically powerful neighbours — China, South Korea and Japan — which worry that a regime collapse could result in massive refugee flows and domestic unrest.

Show of strength
Among the guests at the parade, the biggest in the North in years, were foreign diplomats and Communist Party officials from China, the destitute North’s only major ally on which it relies for food and fuel aid.

The secretive nation also invited foreign media to watch the parade to mark the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party, giving the world its first independent look at the protege.

Kim Jong-il, who now sports a large unexplained mark on the right side of his face, limped slightly as he walked to the front of the podium to the cheers of troops. However, the 68-year-old managed to stand for more than hour reviewing the parade.

Thousands of soldiers armed with machineguns, bayonets and swords marched to the tune of brass bands in the square, dominated by a giant portrait of the state’s founder, Kim Il-sung.

A sea of red and pink flowers, waved by thousands of spectators, served as a backdrop to the ostentatious show of power.

Sunday’s parade in the centre of the capital was the climax of celebrations which started at the end of last month with the staging of a rare party conference to pick a new leadership.

After months of speculation, the untested Jong-un was made second-in-command to his father on the ruling party’s powerful Central Military Commission, as well as being appointed a party Central Committee member.

Rising with him were the leader’s sister Kyong-hui and her husband, creating a powerful triumvirate ready to take over the family dynasty that has ruled North Korea since its founding after World War II. – Reuters

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