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Kim Jong-un hailed as North Korea’s ‘supreme commander’

North Korea vowed on Saturday to uphold with “blood and tears” Kim Jong-il’s son as “supreme commander” as the country builds up the untested young man in preparation for a third generation of the Kim family dynasty.

Even as North Korea emphasises anointed heir Kim Jong-un’s bloodline and his family’s claims as spiritual protectors of the North Korean people, millions are grieving for Kim Jong-il, who state media said died one week ago of a heart attack. North Korea is in an official mourning period until after Kim’s funeral on Wednesday and a memorial on Thursday.

The Rodong Sinmun — North Korea’s main newspaper — said in an editorial on Saturday that the country would uphold Kim Jong-un as “supreme commander” with vows made in “blood and tears” before Kim Jong-il.

Citizens in the capital, Pyongyang, meanwhile, received a special gift from the recently deceased leader: loads of fish. North Korea’s state-run media reported that Kim was worried about the supply of fish in Pyongyang, and had looked into the matter the day before he died.

A Korean Central News Agency report said Kim Jong-un “took all necessary measures to truck fresh fish to the capital city in time and supply the fish to the citizens, even in the mourning period”.

Hunger and malnutrition are major problems for North Korea’s mostly impoverished population, with the United Nations warning that rations are inadequate and the US considering sending food aid. Kim’s government has long made military spending a priority under the policy of songun or military first.

Official media on Saturday were filled with reports of the fish made available by Kim Jong-il. The Rodong Sinmun showed a photo of a woman covering her mouth in sadness and gratitude as she watched loads of herring and walleye pollack being distributed at a crowded grocery store, where they were piled up in baskets.

‘Prolonged food deprivation’
Though Pyongyang is better supplied than other cities, feeding the people is a major problem for North Korea. The US pushed back its long-awaited decision on providing food aid following the death of Kim Jong-il.

North Korea has yet to descend to the depths of famine that killed an estimated 5% to 10% of its people in the mid- and late 1990s, but hunger has worsened through the year.

A recent food security and crop assessment by experts from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and World Food Programme said health officials reported a 50% to 100% increase this year in hospital admissions of malnourished children.

Their report said much of the North Korean population suffered “prolonged food deprivation” in 2011 as the public distribution system that most rely on was reduced to 200 grams or less per day, providing only one-third the minimum daily energy requirement. Almost all households surveyed indicated they added water to food to increase its volume, it said.

North Korean media have been flowing with eulogies for Kim Jong-il, who ruled the country for 17 years after the death of his father, North Korea’s national founder and eternal President Kim Il Sung. Both Kims were the object of intense personality cults.

The reports have stressed how the North Korean people are deeply indebted to the largesse of their leaders, despite the deepening political isolation and economic hardship they have faced in recent years.

Public mourning
The state media has broadcast constant scenes of public mourning, with women and children wailing, soldiers bowing before Kim’s smiling portrait and senior officials lining up to view his body, which is on display in a glass case at the same funeral palace where his father’s embalmed remains are on view.

In Pyongyang, the youngest son of Unification Church founder Reverend Sun Myung Moon was seen carrying a wreath as he paid respects to Kim. Moon Hyung-jin (32) had recently met with senior North Korean officials, and his father maintains links with Pyongyang. It was not clear when Moon arrived in North Korea and whether he was there to solely pay respects.

North Korea has also claimed that Kim’s death generated a series of spectacular natural phenomena, creating a mysterious glow atop a revered mountain, cracking a sheet of ice on a lake with a loud roar and inspiring a crane to circle a statue of the nation’s founder before perching in a tree and drooping its head in sorrow.

“Leader Kim Jong-il is always with us as we have respected Comrade Kim Jong-un identical to him,” KCNA quoted Song Hye Yong, a 42-year-old woman, as saying as she carried “a bag full of fish in her hand”.

The report also quoted Kim Jong-hwa, a salesperson at a grocery in the central district of the city, as saying she was deeply touched by leader Kim Jong-il’s gift of fish to the people.

“All citizens are deeply moved by his deep care,” she said.

The reports did not specify how much fish was being made available.

Despite initial jitters over possible instability, officials in Seoul and Washington are calling the political transition in North Korea smooth so far. There have been no outward signs of unrest on the streets or unusual troop movements along the borders.

The North, however, is highly sensitive to what it sees as outside threats.

Its government-run website, Uriminzokkiri.com, has slammed South Korea for putting its military on alert, calling that move an “insult” to a nation in mourning.

The Korean peninsula remains in a state of war because the three-year Korean War ended in 1953 in a truce, not a peace treaty. Tanks and troops still guard the heavily fortified Demilitarised Zone dividing the two sides. — Sapa-AP

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