North Korea touts Kim Jong-Un as leader

2011-12-20 08:09

Seoul - North Korea on Tuesday mourned late leader Kim Jong-Il and touted his son and successor Jong-Un as the "pillar of our people" amid international wariness at the upheaval in the nuclear-armed nation.

US President Barack Obama pledged to defend regional allies South Korea and Japan after the reclusive communist state made the shock announcement of Kim's death at the age of 69.

"At the frontline of our revolution stands Comrade Kim Jong-Un, the great successor of the juche (self-reliance) revolution and the outstanding leader of the party, military and people," the North's official news agency said.

"Comrade Kim Jong-Un is the unwavering spiritual and ideological pillar of our people."

Devastating famine

The North has decreed 13 days of nationwide mourning for Kim Jong-Il, who died on Saturday of a heart attack after succeeding his own father in the 1990s.

The regime kept the death a secret for two days until a tearful TV announcer disclosed it on Monday and urged people to rally round his youngest son.

The senior Kim presided over a devastating famine but still found funds to build missiles and nuclear weapons during his 17 years in power.

Despite the nation's hardships, state TV aired footage of near-hysterical North Koreans, young and old alike, pounding the ground in displays of abject grief.

The news agency on Tuesday carried fresh reports of grief, saying flags of mourning were flying from military bases, factories, commercial facilities and farms and endless queues of mourners were forming.

Jong-Un, who is in his late 20s, was catapulted into the limelight after his father suffered a stroke in August 2008. Last year he was made a four-star general and given top ruling party posts despite having had no public profile.

Under aunt, husband’s tutelage

Analysts said there would be little turbulence - at least for now - since regime members at present have a vested interest in preserving the status quo.

"The Kim Jong-Un era has already started," said Paik Hak-Soon of Seoul's Sejong Institute, with observers predicting the younger Kim will be eased into power under the tutelage of his aunt and her husband.

Obama spoke by telephone to Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda following a conversation with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak soon after the death announcement.

"The president underscored the United States' commitment to the defence of our close allies, including Japan," the White House said in a statement.

"He also conveyed the importance he places on maintaining the stability of the Korean peninsula and the region."

South Korea ordered its troops on alert after Monday's bombshell news but seemed to be taking pains to avoid provoking its neighbour.

Defence Minister Kim Kwan-Jin told parliament he would rethink a plan to display Christmas lights near the tense border. "I will reconsider it because it is not timely in the current situation," Kim said.

The communist North had furiously objected to the displays on three towers, which were to be lit up on Friday, calling it "psychological warfare" by its capitalist neighbour.

Senior officials led by President Lee were later Tuesday to debate whether to offer condolences for Kim, despite two deadly border attacks last year which were blamed on the North.

North and South Korea have remained technically at war since their three-year conflict ended only in an armistice in 1953. The US stations 28 500 troops in the South and another 50 000 in Japan.

Clinton: Thoughts and prayers

Amid wariness about North Korea's future under the untested Jong-Un, Britain, France and Germany voiced hope for a new dawn after a tumultuous year that has seen regimes topple across the Middle East.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement her "thoughts and prayers" were with the North Korean people "during these difficult times".

She urged the new leadership to "usher in a new era of peace, prosperity and lasting security" on the peninsula.

In Beijing, President Hu Jintao visited the North Korean embassy to offer his condolences. China is the North's sole major ally and its economic prop.

Kim's funeral will be held on December 28 in Pyongyang but no foreign delegations will be invited. National mourning was declared until December 29.

Kim took over after his own father and founding president Kim Il-Sung died in 1994.

In the mid-1990s, he presided over a famine that killed hundreds of thousands of his people. Severe food shortages continue and a third of children are stunted by malnutrition, according to UN estimates.

Kim still found the resources for a nuclear weapons programme that culminated in tests in October 2006 and May 2009. The country is believed to have a plutonium stockpile big enough for six to eight weapons.

  • Squeegee - 2011-12-20 08:36

    Uncertain days. Obama making sure the new leader knows where the USA stands in case he gets any strange ideas.

  • Marius Koen - 2011-12-20 08:56

    Oh Xmas tree, Oh Xmas tree... Light up those lights!!!! Let them see what they lose out.

  • J.D. - 2011-12-20 08:59

    so the son inherit his father's dictatorship. how can people be so ignorant.good on america to protect the neighbours.

      Graziella - 2011-12-20 09:16

      Not dissimilar really to the monied capitalist elites inheritting the presidency in the US.

      anthony.weineck - 2011-12-20 09:25

      @Graziella: We get it, the US political situation is pretty bad. If you can't see the difference between that and North Korea, though... well I don't think you're trying very hard.

      Graziella - 2011-12-20 10:08

      There is no fundamental difference. Communist countries are run for the benefit of the party elite, capitalist countries are run for the benefit of corporate elites. The ideologies that elites (whether communist, capitalist or Islamist) profess never get in the way of their pursuit of their own self-interest. Unless you understand this basic principle, you will fail to get how our world operates. US/UK presidential/prime ministerial candidates are part of an elite that makes sure you have no chance of power in the their system unless you have maga bucks to back you.

      anthony.weineck - 2011-12-20 10:19

      Graziella: You can draw a tentative connection by saying that the elites in both system manage to keep power within a relatively small circle of people. Yes, they resemble each other in that very superficial way. But they are absolutely not fundamentally the same. You are performing some truly astounding mental gymnastics to make that fit. Western countries embody, to various degrees, democratic principles. Every 4 years in the US and UK the electorate get to choose between several candidates with very different ideas of how to run the country - just look at how divided the US is becoming due to ideological differences. In North Korea there are no elections, there is no choice, the citizenry have absolutely no representation. Yes, democracy as it is currently practiced has massive flaws. Yes, the US electoral system needs a major overhaul to eliminate corporate influence on government, but here is the difference: in America, reform is a possibility; in NK, if you speak of reform, you disappear. You are insisting on a massively simplified view of the world, and the world is not a simple place.

      Graziella - 2011-12-20 10:34

      Surely you should know by now that all their major political parties are merely the alternating managers of a larger, nefarious system? Admittedly, you show an alarming degree of naiveté and a lack of prior homework if you didn't already know of the affront to democracy that is the whipping and patronage system and the disgrace of the centralised,controlling,bullying party machinery (in all parties). All this drama we see coming out of the Capital of the state entity is a show for the public to convince them that the voters have a real choice in leadership. Any dogmatism, whether it is Communism or Free-Market Capitalism ultimately runs counter to the pragmatism to a basic belief in the right of everyone to be involved in the political decisions. No citizens in the west have voted for NATO wars, bank bailouts and spending cuts, even though millions have been protesting on the streets.

      anthony.weineck - 2011-12-20 10:53

      Graziella: Oh! I get it now, you're a conspiracy theorist. What are these shadowy cabals operating behind the scenes, and how do they evade detection from all but your insightful gaze. Don't get me wrong, I think the amount of power corporations exercise over there approaches the level of influence you're referring to, but there are checks and balances built in - hence the separation of executive and legislative branches. But this discussion really is unnecessary. If you believe in an enigmatic, unprovable illuminati-type coterie ruling the world then you are too far gone for me to have any hope of convincing you.

      Graziella - 2011-12-20 12:12

      You are not going convince me of anything as I know all I need to know regarding "democratic" countries' double speak. The UK/US decided that democratic Iran was charging too much for oil so brought the Shah back, depriving the Iranians of democracy. The Iranian people are still paying for that to this day. So spare me the BS about the US/UK love for democracy. "The illusion of freedom will continue for as long as it's profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain, they will just take down the scenery, pull back the curtains, and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theater." - Frank Zappa

  • colin.dovey - 2011-12-20 09:25

    Extraordinary thinking - am I seeing things, or are they - the N. Koreans - more concerned about adequate their stocks of Plutonium than they are about rampant malnutrition amongst defenceless children?

  • Barefoot - 2011-12-20 09:33

    Now America is being tjatjarag it is the one turning people from constructive debates, the guy hasn't uttered a single word already he's receiving threats- talk about making enemies from people you don't know. he's father might have been a bartard but do you really know the kid? look at how kabila turned war torn Congo into a almost peacefull place granted i don't know what the hell is going on now

  • sorryson3 - 2011-12-20 10:42

    South African border policing now to be handed over to SANDF specially trained force !! " Trained " by whom ?? CUBA, yes that's right CUBA !!! North Korea's big ally and bosum buddy right ?? Go on complete the obvious link, SA / North Korea??? Kom Ons Sien !!!

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