North Korea Formally Announces Next Leader
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
In Pyongyang, North Korea today, crowds gathered for the final day of the formal memorial ceremony for Kim Jong Il. While yesterday's funeral march focused almost entirely on North Korea's former leader, this morning's event was as much about his son and successor, Kim Jong Un. In particular, a key military official called on the North Korean army to follow the new leader's orders whatever they might be.
NPR's Mike Shuster monitored the proceedings on television from Seoul, South Korea.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MIKE SHUSTER, BYLINE: Eulogies always tend to glorify the dead whether of high or low station in life. Today's praise of Kim Jong Il certainly did that, preceded as it was by music from a military orchestra and attended by hundreds of thousands, all in orderly rows.
The primary eulogy was given by Kim Yong Nam, North Korea's ceremonial head of state. He had nothing but praise for the man known as the Dear Leader in the North, from his alleged excellence in economic policies - despite long and widespread food shortages - to his military skills, although he had little real military experience. Simultaneous translation was provided by the BBC.
KIM YONG NAM: (Through Translator) He led our army, and he educated our armies. And because of our nuclear power, we proudly demonstrated our strength to the world. We gained that confidence and strength in our nation.
SHUSTER: How his youngest son and successor, Kim Jong Un, views nuclear weapons is not known. He is still in his late 20s, and that will be one of his most serious responsibilities as he now assumes all the mantles of power - both military and political - that belonged to his father. During the mourning period since Kim Jong Il's death on December 17th and in this week's formal funeral ceremonies, there has been little talk of North Korea's relations with other nations. In his eulogy today, though, Kim Yong Nam also praised Kim Jong Il for his support in favor of warmer relations with South Korea.
NAM: (Through Translator) He also opened up new era for the new relationship with the South. He opened up a new way for the South and North relationship.
SHUSTER: Midway through today's memorial, attention turned to the successor, Kim Jong Un. The words were spoken by General Kim Jong Gak, the top political officer of the Korean People's Army. His was a pledge of fealty to the new leader.
GENERAL KIM JONG GAK: (Through Translator) We will protect our Kim Jong Un as a leader with our lives. Whatever Kim Jong Un order, we will follow his order.
SHUSTER: Such a vow from the general carries much weight. He is the general who makes sure the other generals toe the official line. And the official line is that Kim Jong Un is now the supreme leader of the party, the army and the people of North Korea.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARTILLERY SALUTE)
SHUSTER: After the eulogies came a long artillery salute. And then at noon precisely, the assembled throngs in Pyongyang's central Kim Il Sung square bowed their heads in silence as sirens and horns blared for three minutes.
(SOUNDBITE OF BLARING SIRENS AND HORNS)
SHUSTER: And so the ascendance of the son, Kim Jong Un, began, and the formal mourning for Kim Jong Il came to an end.
Through it all, Kim Jong Un spoke not a word in public. Mike Shuster, NPR News, Seoul.
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