Late NKorean leader gets military birthday tribute

By Jean H. Lee

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Feb. 16 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

North Koreans lay flowers beneath a large portrait of the late leader Kim Jong Il to commemorate his death and what would have been his 70th birthday in Pyongyang on Thursday Feb. 16, 2012.

Kim Kwang Hyon, Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea — Army trucks loaded with artillery rolled by the memorial palace for North Korea's late leaders as Kim Jong Un presided over a military birthday commemoration for his father Thursday.

Kim Jong Il died of a heart attack in December, and North Koreans marked what would have been his 70th birthday by remembering him and showing support for his young son and successor.

Across Pyongyang, they bowed before Kim Jong Il's portrait and laid single blossoms in his honor on the holiday now called "Day of the Shining Star."

The Kim Jong Un ode "Footsteps" reverberated across the capital city all day, emphasizing the son's inheritance of the family legacy bequeathed to him by father and grandfather, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.

The Kims have ruled North Korea since its inception in 1948 following the division of the Korean peninsula into the communist-backed north and the U.S.-allied south. Kim Il Sung remains the country's "eternal president" even after his death in 1994.

The transition to a third-generation Kim comes at a delicate time for North Korea, which struggles with a chronic food shortage and faces pressure to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

The nation's leadership has leaned heavily on legacy in building up Kim Jong Un's credentials, highlighting the similarities to his grandfather in looks and style, and to his father in vision and policy.

"We're very proud to have him as a successor to Kim Jong Il. He's brimming with energy," said Jang Ye Song, a guide at a flower exhibition featuring Kim Jong Il's namesake red begonias. "We were completely charmed at the first sight of him."

Thursday's military show outside the Kumsusan mausoleum where Kim Jong Il's body lay in state reinforced Kim Jong Un's vow to uphold the "military first" policy that defined his father's rule.

Thousands of soldiers goose-stepped past the reviewing stand where Kim Jong Un stood, flanked by top military political leaders, beneath a massive portrait of Kim Jong Il.

As a military brass band played and fireworks exploded, tanks, trucks and jeeps filed by, loaded with artillery guns and rocket launchers. A sea of people waving red and pink plastic flowers blanketed the plaza outside the grandiose mausoleum.

"Bearing guns, we will faithfully uphold the 'military-first' leadership of our respected supreme commander and comrade," Ri Yong Ho, vice marshal of the Korean People's Army and the military's General Staff chief, said in a speech at the ceremony.

"Let's dedicate our lives to protect Kim Jong Un!" troops in the plaza roared.

The military show was nowhere near as extravagant as the massive parade at Kim Il Sung Square in October 2010 for the 65th anniversary of the Workers' Party of Korea, and an even bigger procession is expected for the April 15 celebrations that will mark the centenary of Kim Il Sung's birth.

But it was believed to be only the second military parade held at the memorial palace that once served as Kim Il Sung's presidential offices, and was seen as a fitting tribute to the late leader at a time when the nation is in a semiofficial state of mourning. Kim Il Sung's body has lain in state at Kumsusan since 1995, and his son's remains are expected to be displayed there as well.

Kim Jong Un was calm and composed as he saluted the troops. At times, he cracked a smile as he chatted with Ri Yong Ho and Armed Forces Minister Kim Yong Chun. Other key figures present were Kim Yong Nam, the president of the Presidium of North Korea's parliament; Premier Choe Yong Rim; Kang Sok Ju, a vice premier who was Kim Jong Il's key foreign policy adviser, and his aunt, Kim Kyong Hui.

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