North Korea pays tribute to late Kim

2012-02-16 11:18

Seoul - North Korea marked Thursday's birthday of Kim Jong-Il with emotional televised tributes to the late leader, as the regime pledged loyalty to his son and successor.

Her voice quavering with grief, an announcer on state TV introduced film footage of the former strongman visiting villages, farms and factories in a purported expression of care for his people.

"The General [Kim] took time out of his busy schedule and deigned to visit my daughter's home, listening to this old farmer's concerns," an old woman said on TV.

"There are no other leaders in the world like the General."

Kim dynasty intensified

The personality cult surrounding the Kim dynasty, which has ruled the country since its founding in 1948, has intensified still further following Kim Jong-Il's death from a heart attack on December 17 at age 69.

Analysts say the aim is to justify the communist country's second dynastic succession, as Kim's young and inexperienced son Jong-Un takes control of the impoverished but nuclear-armed nation.

Jong-Un on Wednesday presided over a meeting of hundreds of military and civilian officials to commemorate his late father.

At the meeting, nominal head of state Kim Yong-Nam urged the nation to protect Jong-Un "with their lives" and unite around him, and called for sustained efforts to bolster the country's defences and the economy.

Crumbling economy

The crumbling command economy is beset by shortages of power and raw materials, and severe food shortages have lingered since a full-blown famine in the 1990s.

Gross national income in 2010 was about one-fortieth the size of South Korea's and life expectancy is more than a decade shorter, according to Seoul's statistical agency.

China has publicly urged its ally the North to open up the economy.

North Korean and United States officials will hold talks in Beijing next week about a possible resumption of six-nation nuclear disarmament negotiations, a meeting which could give some clues about policy priorities under Jong-Un.

South Korean officials say the current focus is on ensuring internal stability. State media this week has been burnishing the late Kim's image in an apparent attempt to put his son in a good light.

Highest title bestowed

The former leader has been posthumously appointed a "Generalissimo", the country's highest title. A statue has been unveiled in Pyongyang, showing him on horseback alongside his own father and national founder Kim Il-Sung.

Commemorative stamps and coins have been produced to mark Thursday's birth anniversary. Pyongyang is staging an art exhibition dedicated to Kim's memory and a festival of Kimjongilia, a hybrid red begonia.

An inscription 120m wide has been carved on a rock face in the southwest of the country to mark the day and 132 people have been awarded a new medal, the Order of Kim Jong-Il, for services to socialism.

Jong-Un, believed to be in his late 20s, has overseen the dispatch of birthday gifts by ship or helicopter to children on remote islands in the Yellow Sea, state media said.