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2009/07/09 11:24 KST

*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

N.K. Commemorates Late Leader amid Tensions over Nuke, Missile

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il attended a national memorial service July 8 to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the death of his father and the country's founder Kim Il-sung. This year's anniversary comes amid high international tensions over the socialist state's missile launches and its May 25 nuclear test.

   A thin-looking Kim Jong-il made a rare public appearance at the memorial, the second major state event that the 67-year-old Kim has attended in person since reportedly suffering a stroke last summer. The North released a video showing Kim's attendance at the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) meeting in April.

   At the memorial service held at the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium, the North's ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-nam delivered an address filled with propaganda messages extolling the virtues of the late president. Kim serves as the president of the SPA Presidium.

   In his speech, the SPA president said the "Great Leader" was a "peerlessly great man who the Korean people greeted and held in high esteem for the first time in a history spanning five thousand years," according to a report by the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). He added that Kim Il-sung was an "invincible and iron-willed commander who ushered in a new era of the anti-imperialist struggle."

   Kim Jong-il limped slightly as he entered the stadium and took his seat on stage, a recorded video clip by the (North) Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station showed, lending credence to reports of his poor health. The footage showed his visibly thinning hair when he bowed his head for a brief silent tribute. He kept a straight face throughout the event which the North's media said was held "solemnly."

   North Korea declared Kim Il-sung its eternal president after he died of a heart attack in 1994. His son and the current leader Kim Jong-il holds the official title of "general secretary of the Workers' Party" and "chairman of the National Defense Commission," not that of president.

   Kim Jong-il took over as state leader upon the death of his father in the first father-to-son power transfer in the history of communism and has since ruled the isolated nation through an iron-clad personality cult.

   North Korea watchers say the large-scale ceremony marking the anniversary of his father's death is partly aimed at solidifying people's allegiance to the younger Kim, referred to as the "Dear Leader."

   The North is reportedly preparing for another hereditary succession. Kim's health has sparked concerns about instability and a power struggle if he were to die without naming a successor.

   His third and youngest son, Kim Jong-un, has widely been reported as being groomed as heir, but the regime has made no announcement to the outside world. Little is known about Jong-un, 26, beyond the fact that he studied at the International School of Berne in Switzerland in the 1990s.

   The memorial came after the North conducted a number of banned ballistic missile tests July 4, fueling tensions already running high after Pyongyang's second nuclear test on May 25 led to punishing U.N. sanctions.

   The provocations have raised doubts about the North Korean leader's earlier claims in meetings with foreign guests that he would seek denuclearization as this was his father's dying wish.

   Pyongyang announced at the beginning of the year that it aims to become a "strong and prosperous country" by 2012, the centenary anniversary of the late founder's birth.

   Earlier in the day, Kim visited Pyongyang's Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang, the former official residence and office of his father that now houses his embalmed body inside a glass coffin.

   Kim was accompanied by a group of top military officials including the North's defense minister, Kim Yong-chun, in a show of the state's Songun, or military-first, policy.

   State media has carried a series of hagiographical reports on Kim Il-sung's "immortal feats," and his son's achievements in preserving the legacy, in an apparent attempt to bolster support for Jong-Il. The two Kims are the subject of an all-embracing personality cult.

   Documentaries on the late leader are being broadcast on television and in cinemas, KCNA said. "The films show impressively the great life of the President who had converted the motherland into a country the master of which is the popular masses, always finding himself among the people," it said. "He willingly took boiled rice mixed with cereals, saying that when the people eat boiled millet, we should take the same food."

   Soldiers, civilians and schoolchildren laid floral baskets before statues of the late Kim in various parts of the country, KCNA said. An "endless stream" of people was said to have visited a huge bronze statue at Pyongyang's Mansudae Hill unveiled in 1972 to mark his 60th birthday. A remembrance concert was also held at a Pyongyang theatre in "boundless reverence for the peerlessly great man," KCNA said.

   Observing the anniversary of his death, leading newspapers of the North called to bring into "full bloom President Kim Il-sung's desire to build a great, prosperous and powerful nation."

   Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the Workers' Party, said the "noble will" of Kim Il-sung to build a thriving nation, which he regarded as his lifelong motto till the last moments of his life, is being successfully materialized by leader Kim Jong-il.

   Minju Joson, publication of the Cabinet, called upon all the people to make a dynamic struggle to accomplish the cause of Kim Il-sung, the revolutionary cause of Juche or self-reliance, under the Songun leadership of KIm Jong-il.