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(2nd LD) N. Koreans pledge loyalty to leader on key anniversary

2013/12/17 17:50

By Kim Kwang-tae

SEOUL, Dec. 17 (Yonhap) -- North Koreans vowed Tuesday to faithfully follow their leader Kim Jong-un as they marked the second anniversary of the death of Kim's father and former leader Kim Jong-il.

The latest pledge of their loyalty came just days after the North executed Jang Song-thaek, who had long been considered the North's No. 2 man and Kim Jong-un's regent, for treason.

Kim Yong-nam, North Korea's ceremonial head of state, called on all North Koreans to "hold comrade Kim Jong-un in high esteem as the unitary center of unity and leadership," calling it a fundamental guarantee to carry out achievement of Kim's father.

The octogenarian official made the speech during the anniversary ceremony at the Pyongyang stadium that was broadcast live on state television and monitored in Seoul.

Leader Kim Jong-un presided over the ceremony where he was mostly impassive, though he occasionally clapped his hands along with the packed audience of soldiers and officials. He did not make any comment.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (center) presides over the ceremony marking the second death anniversary of his father and former leader Kim Jong-il at the Pyongyang stadium on Dec. 17, 2013. (KCNA-Yonhap)

Kim later visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun to pay tribute to his father Kim Jong-il, along with his wife Ri Sol-ju, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

It marked Ri's first public appearance since Oct. 15 when she watched a Russian orchestra. It was not immediately clear what had kept her from public view.

But Kim's aunt, Kim Kyong-hui, neither attended the ceremony nor visited the mausoleum, home to the embalmed bodies of the country's two late leaders, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, who are the grandfather and father of the current leader.

Her conspicuous absence came just days after the execution of her husband, Jang.

Still, her political status appears to be unaffected by the bloody purge of her husband. She was listed in sixth place among some 50 officials who were named as members of a funeral committee of a senior Workers' Party official who died of an acute heart failure last week.

Several officials who were believed to be close to Jang attended ceremony, in what could be seen as an indication that their political fate would not be doomed by Jang's execution. The officials include Kim Yang-gon, Pyongyang's point man on inter-Korean relations.

Meanwhile, Choe Ryong-hae, director of the military's General Political Bureau, told the audience that the country's 1.1 million-strong military will only follow his leadership, no matter what.

Choe was sitting next to Kim at the anniversary ceremony, highlighting his meteoric rise from relative obscurity to a position deemed as the country's new No. 2.

Choe also threatened that the North's military will retaliate against South Korea if provoked.

"If enemies drop even a single flame on our territory, our strong forces will make a clean sweep of them," Choe said during the televised speech.

Though the North's harsh rhetoric is not new, the latest threat came amid concerns that North Korea could try to escalate tensions with the outside world to try to forge internal unity following last week's execution of Jang.

On Monday, South Korean President Park Geun-hye ordered troops to beef up vigilance against the North's possible provocations, warning that the communist neighbor could stage "reckless provocations."

   Seoul has repeatedly vowed to retaliate against any provocations to avenge the deaths of 50 South Koreans who were killed in North Korean attacks in 2010.

Still, Choson Sinbo, a pro-North Korean newspaper based in Japan, dismissed the speculation of the North's possible provocations, saying in a dispatch from Pyongyang on Tuesday that things are quiet in the North. The newspaper is widely seen as a mouthpiece of Pyongyang.

Also Tuesday, the North's main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, praised the late Kim Jong-il for transforming the country into a nuclear state. North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and February 2013, drawing international condemnation and tougher U.N. sanctions.

The newspaper also called for the monolithic leadership of Kim, saying that the so-called Mount Paektu bloodline is and should be the North's eternal bloodline, referring to the Kim family.

The North claims the mountain, the highest peak on the Korean Peninsula and located on the Sino-North Korean border, is the sacred birthplace of Kim Jong-il, though historians and foreign officials have said he was born in Russia.

In Seoul, some 70 protesters burned effigies of the current and former leaders of North Korea as they condemned the young leader Kim Jong-un for his reign of terror.

entropy@yna.co.kr

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