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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 241 (Dec. 20, 2012)

N. Korea Commemorates 1st Death Anniversary of Late Leader Kim Jong-il

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea commemorated the first anniversary of late leader Kim Jong-il's death on Dec. 17, holding mass rallies, unveiling a renovated mausoleum for the deceased leader and holding various cultural events.

   North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his top brass attended a mass memorial rally on the eve of the anniversary for the senior Kim while the country is jubilant over its successful launch of a long-range rocket on Dec. 12.

   North Korea's state-run Korean Central Broadcasting Station, monitored in Seoul, broadcast live the commemoration ceremony held in late morning in a Pyongyang stadium.

   Kim Jong-il died of a heart attack on a train outside Pyongyang while traveling for a field guidance. He ruled the socialist country for 17 years. Kim's third-son Jong-un took over power following the death.

   "A national memorial service was held with solemnity here to mark the first anniversary of demise of leader Kim Jong-il," the country's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in an English dispatch.

   During the 70-minute service, Kim Yong-nam, the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, lauded the accomplishments of the late leader in his memorial address, according to KCNA.

   "He strengthened the Korean People's Army into the matchless revolutionary army of Mt. Paektu, led the unprecedented standoff with imperialism and the U.S. to one victory after another and made the Democratic People's Republic of Korea a world-level military power and legitimate nuclear weapons state," the ceremonial head of the state was quoted as saying in the report.

   "The ideology and leadership of comrade Kim Jong-un is that of comrade Kim Jong-il," he continued. "All party members, military soldiers and citizens should support him up with pure conscience and moral loyalty, safeguard him strongly, and cooperate with each other again and again."

   On the very day of the first anniversary, the North unveiled a renovated mausoleum for the ruling Kim family.

   The reopening ceremony for Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, held from 9:00 a.m., was broadcast live by key television stations, including (North) Korean Central Broadcasting Station, monitored in Seoul.

   The North's KCNA said in an English dispatch that "an inaugural ceremony of the renovated Kumsusan Palace of the Sun is under way in a solemn atmosphere on Dec. 17."

   Television images showed North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attending the ceremony at the mausoleum, where his father's embalmed body is laid, along with top military, party and government figures.

   First lady Ri Sol-ju was with the leader when he paid tribute there. Clad in a black mourning dress, Ri appeared to be in the late stages of pregnancy as South Korean media have widely speculated, according to the television images.

   Scientists and others who contributed to the North's successful launch of a long-range rocket on Dec. 12, foreign diplomats, soldiers, laborers and farmers as well as party, military and government officials were invited to the ceremony, the television station said.

   Earlier this year, the North embarked on the renovation work at the Kim family mausoleum where the body of the country's founder Kim Il-sung is also laid.

   The re-opening ceremony is widely expected to be followed by the unveiling of the preserved body of the late leader for public viewing.

   The KCNA also released the North Korean leader's thank-you letter to mausoleum renovation workers in which Kim urged soldiers and other North Koreans to "transform our country into an economic power" in order to fulfill his father and grandfather's hopes of establishing a prosperous socialist nation.

   The news agency said the country sounded a siren across the country and had three minutes of silence as part of commemoration gestures for the late leader.

   The Dec. 17 issue of the country's main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, had two additional pages filled with commemoration content.

   The ceremony also drew wild media speculations as a mystery man was next to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the official state event.

   The middle-aged man stood right next to Kim when the group of top officials paid tribute together to the statues of Kim Jong-il and North Korean founder Kim Il-sung in the mausoleum.

   The position used to be taken by Choe Ryong-hae, the director of the People's Army General Political Bureau. Choe's standing has been questioned recently as he has appeared wearing the four stars of a general instead of the single star typically worn by a vice marshal.

   The mystery man was also shown standing next to Kim at the previous day's commemoration event for the late leader.

   North Korean figures' positions at official events are key signs indicating their ranks and levels of importance in the regime.

   Experts said the man could be a key figure related to the Dec. 12 launch of what the country says was a rocket carrying a "working satellite" or security service for the leader.

   A Seoul government official said the man is likely to be Choe Chun-sik, the head of the Second Academy of Natural Sciences, which is in charge of developing military weapons. "We presume Choe Chun-sik is related to the North's recent launch of a long-range rocket," the official said on condition of anonymity.

   The Second Academy of Natural Sciences is known to be the Workers' Party of Korea's sub-unit for researching and developing military arms and is on the U.S.'s sanction list.

   Another Seoul government official also raised the possibility that the mystery man could be the chief secretary of either late leader Kim Jong-il or the current leader.

   The Kumsusan Palace of the Sun was first built in 1977, called Kumsusan Assembly Hall. It was renamed in 1995 to Kumsusan Memorial Palace, when the North marked the first anniversary of the death of founder Kim Il-sung. The palace was renovated after the death of Kim Jong-il and renamed with its current title.

   Whether the North would publicly show the mummified body of ex-leader Kim Jong-il is still uncertain. When the regime commemorated the first anniversary of the founder's death, the state media showed the mummified body of the founder laid in the mausoleum.

   Pyongyang has spent US$100 million to mummify former leader Kim Jong-il and exhibit his body in the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, a North Korea source based in Beijing said recently.

   "Over the past year, Russian technicians were engaged in mummifying Kim Jong-il, and they recently completed the process," the source told a local newspaper in Seoul. "North Korea imported all the materials needed to create a public facility where people will be able to pay respects to Kim and also build a very large commemoration park near Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang.

   "North Korea's economy will be affected by this as it is investing $100 million to preserve Kim Jong-il's body and building related facilities at a time when its economy is already in difficulty," the source said. "Also, a large amount of money is needed to invest in maintaining the body every year."

   But North Korea revealed the body of Kim Jong-il to select visitors on the anniversary day.

   According to The Associate Press' report from Pyongyang, North Korea unveiled the embalmed body of the late leader, still in his trademark khaki jumpsuit, on the anniversary of his death on Dec. 17.

   Kim lies in state a few floors below his father, national founder Kim Il-sung, in the Kumsusan mausoleum, the cavernous former presidential palace, the AP reported. Kim Jong-il is presented lying beneath a red blanket, with a spotlight shining on his face in a room suffused in red.

   "Wails echoed through the chilly hall as a group of North Korean women sobbed into the sashes of their traditional Korean dresses as they bowed before his body," the AP said, adding the hall bearing the glass coffin was opened to select visitors, including The Associated Press for the first time since his death.

   North Korea also unveiled Kim's yacht and his armored train carriage, where he is said to have died. Among the personal belongings featured in the mausoleum are the parka, sunglasses and pointy platform shoes he famously wore in the last decades of his life.

   Cameras were not allowed inside the mausoleum, and state media did not release any images of Kim Jong-il's body, according to the AP.

   Meanwhile, the North held a mass rally outside the mausoleum to show the military personnel's loyalty to the new leader Kim Jong-un.

   The military's top political officer, Choe Ryong-hae, said North Korea should be proud of the satellite, calling it "a political event with great significance in the history of Korea and humanity."

   According to a KCNA report, soldiers of the Ground, Navy and Air and Anti-Air Forces of the Korean People's Army (KPA) renewed their pledge to be faithful to leader Kim Jong-un, the late leaders Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung.

   Stressing the need to guarantee the national reunification and build a thriving nation with strong arms, Choe said the KPA will mercilessly defeat the aggressors and accomplish the historic cause of national reunification "if the U.S. imperialists and South Korean group of traitors hurt the dignity and sovereignty of the country even a bit."