North Korea calls Kim Jong Un ‘supreme leader’

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea’s power brokers publicly declared Kim Jong Un the country’s supreme leader for the first time at a massive public memorial Thursday for his father, cementing the family’s hold on power for another generation.

A somber Kim, dubbed the Great Successor, attended the memorial as he stood with his head bowed at the Grand People’s Study House, overlooking Kim Il Sung Square, named for his grandfather who founded modern North Korea.

A sea of humanity, including smartly dressed troops and civilians, gathered below him for the memorial that doubled as a show of support for his burgeoning role as leader.

The unequivocal public backing for Kim Jong Un provides a strong signal that government and military officials have unified around him in the wake of his father and long time ruler Kim Jong Il’s death Dec. 17.

“Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un is our party, military and country’s supreme leader who inherits great comrade Kim Jong Il’s ideology, leadership, character, virtues, grit and courage,” Kim Yong Nam, considered North Korea’s ceremonial head of state, said in a speech.

Kim Jong Un, wearing a dark overcoat, was flanked by top party and military officials, including Kim Jong Il’s younger sister, Kim Kyong Hui, and her husband Jang Song Thaek, who are expected to serve as mentors of their young nephew.

“The father’s plan is being implemented,” Ralph Cossa, president of Pacific Forum CSIS, a Hawaii-based think tank, said of the transfer of power. “All of these guys have a vested interest in the system and a vested interest in demonstrating stability. The last thing they want to do is create havoc.”

Still, given Kim Jong Un’s inexperience and age — he is in his late 20s — there are questions outside North Korea about whether he is equipped to lead a nation engaged in long-stalled negotiations over its nuclear program and grappling with decades of economic hardship and chronic food shortages.

But support among North Korea’s power brokers was clear at the memorial service, which was attended by hundreds of thousands of people filling Kim Il Sung Square and other plazas in central Pyongyang.

Life in the North Korean capital came to a standstill as mourners dressed in thick, dark colored jackets blanketed the plaza from the Grand People’s Study House to the Taedong River for the second day of funeral ceremonies for the late leader. A giant red placard hanging on the front of a building facing Kim Il Sung Square urged the country to rally around Kim Jong Un.

Kim Jong Il held three main positions: chairman of the National Defense Commission, general secretary of the Workers’ Party and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army.

According to the constitution, his position as chairman of the National Defense Commission makes him “supreme leader” of North Korea.

Kim Jong Un was made a four-star general last year and appointed a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party. Since his father’s death, state media have bestowed on him a series of new titles signaling that his succession campaign was gaining momentum: Great Successor, Supreme Leader and Sagacious Leader.

“Kim Jong Il laid a red silk carpet, and Kim Jong Un only needs to walk on it,” Jeung, the South Korean analyst, said.

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