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N.K. marks birthday of late leader amid death of his eldest son

2017/02/16 10:07

SEOUL, Feb. 16 (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Thursday celebrated the 75th birthday of its late leader Kim Jong-il, Pyongyang's state media said, days after the death of his eldest son.

The country's leader Kim Jong-un paid tribute to his late father on the key anniversary, known as the Day of the Shining Star in North Korea, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

On Wednesday, another national gathering to mark the anniversary took place in Pyongyang with the North's young leader and party, military and government officials in attendance, it added.

Kim Jong-un was grim faced at the meeting and did not wave his hand when he left the venue, news footage aired by a state-run TV channel showed.

With a grim face, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attends a national meeting to mark the 75th birthday of his late father Kim Jong-il in this photo captured from footage by the North's state TV broadcaster on Feb. 15, 2017. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap) With a grim face, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attends a national meeting to mark the 75th birthday of his late father Kim Jong-il in this photo captured from footage by the North's state TV broadcaster on Feb. 15, 2017. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

The anniversary took place three days after Kim Jong-nam, the eldest half brother of the current leader, was killed at an airport in Malaysia by two unidentified women who poisoned him.

Seoul's spy agency on Wednesday confirmed the killing of Kim, stopping short of saying that North Korea was behind the assassination.

But it said that the murder of Kim Jong-nam has been a "standing order" issued by Kim Jong-un since he inherited power in late 2011 following the sudden death of his father.

Kim Jong-nam -- the eldest son of Kim Jong-il -- was once the heir apparent, but he had been living in foreign countries for years after apparently falling out of favor with his father for attempting to enter Japan with a fake passport in 2001.

In a patriarchal society like North Korea, the first son is widely viewed as the successor, but the power succession was given to Kim Jong-un, who is the third son.

For the current leader, this is seen as the Achilles' heel in terms of legitimacy of his leadership, along with uncertainty over the background of his late mother Ko Yong-hui, who was a Korean resident in Japan. Korean residents in Japan are viewed as low status people in the North.

The latest killing marked the highest-profile death under the Kim Jong-un regime since the execution of Jang Song-thaek in December 2013, the once-powerful uncle of the incumbent leader.

The anniversary also comes as North Korea successfully test-fired a new ballistic missile that could help the reclusive country master the know-how to make missiles capable of reaching the continental United States. The launch marked the first major provocative act since U.S. Donald Trump took office last month.

On Sunday, North Korea fired off an intermediate-range ballistic missile, called the Pukguksong-2, which flew about 500 kilometers before splashing into the East Sea.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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