North Korea Greets Its Next Leader

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  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Il brought dancers at the Arirang Mass Games to tears Saturday by making a rare appearance at the festival on the second day of celebrations in the capital of Pyongyang.
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    North Korean leader Kim Jong Il brought dancers at the Arirang Mass Games to tears Saturday by making a rare appearance at the festival on the second day of celebrations in the capital of Pyongyang.
    Vincent Yu/AP
  • Clapping, waving and even cracking a smile, the youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il joined his father Sunday at a massive military parade in his most public appearance since being unveiled as the nation's next leader.
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    Clapping, waving and even cracking a smile, the youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il joined his father Sunday at a massive military parade in his most public appearance since being unveiled as the nation's next leader.
    Vincent Yu/AP
  • The parade was said to be the nation's largest ever, an impressive display of unity and military might for a country known for its elaborately staged performances, suggesting bigger celebrations than just the Workers' Party anniversary.
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    The parade was said to be the nation's largest ever, an impressive display of unity and military might for a country known for its elaborately staged performances, suggesting bigger celebrations than just the Workers' Party anniversary.
    KNS/AFP/Getty Images
  • Trucks loaded with rocket launchers rolled past, but they were dwarfed by a series of missiles, each larger than the last and emblazoned with the words "Defeat the U.S. military. U.S. soldiers are the Korean People's Army's enemy."
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    Trucks loaded with rocket launchers rolled past, but they were dwarfed by a series of missiles, each larger than the last and emblazoned with the words "Defeat the U.S. military. U.S. soldiers are the Korean People's Army's enemy."
    KNS/AFP/Getty Images
  • A North Korean soldier salutes as he marches in the massive military parade marking the 65th anniversary of the communist nation's ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang on Sunday.
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    A North Korean soldier salutes as he marches in the massive military parade marking the 65th anniversary of the communist nation's ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang on Sunday.
    Vincent Yu/AP
  • "If the U.S. imperialists and their followers infringe on our sovereignty and dignity even slightly, we will blow up the stronghold of their aggression," Ri Yong Ho, chief of the General Staff of the North Korean army, said at the event.
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    "If the U.S. imperialists and their followers infringe on our sovereignty and dignity even slightly, we will blow up the stronghold of their aggression," Ri Yong Ho, chief of the General Staff of the North Korean army, said at the event.
    Vincent Yu/AP
  • Seeing the two Kims side by side drew raucous cheers of "Hurrah!" and some tears from North Koreans attending the parade in the heart of Pyongyang.
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    Seeing the two Kims side by side drew raucous cheers of "Hurrah!" and some tears from North Koreans attending the parade in the heart of Pyongyang.
    Vincent Yu/AP
  • Sunday's appearance was carried live by state TV, beaming him into North Korean households and giving the people their first good look at the future leader.
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    Sunday's appearance was carried live by state TV, beaming him into North Korean households and giving the people their first good look at the future leader.
    Park Ji-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images
  • The parade's marchers included thousands of troops as well as members of North Korea's naval officers' academies and military nursing schools.
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    The parade's marchers included thousands of troops as well as members of North Korea's naval officers' academies and military nursing schools.
    Vincent Yu/AP
  • Every branch of North Korea's 1.2 million-member military marched in the parade.
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    Every branch of North Korea's 1.2 million-member military marched in the parade.
    Vincent Yu/AP
  • The parade, however, was probably less about showing off the country's military might than about introducing the heir to the North Korean people and building up his image as the next leader, according to Baek Seung-joo, a North Korea analyst at South Korea's Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.
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    The parade, however, was probably less about showing off the country's military might than about introducing the heir to the North Korean people and building up his image as the next leader, according to Baek Seung-joo, a North Korea analyst at South Korea's Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.
    Vincent Yu/AP
  • Kim Jong Un sat on an observation platform at Kim Il Sung Plaza as armored trucks with rocket launchers and tanks roll by, part of celebrations marking the 65th anniversary of the reclusive state's ruling Workers' Party.
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    Kim Jong Un sat on an observation platform at Kim Il Sung Plaza as armored trucks with rocket launchers and tanks roll by, part of celebrations marking the 65th anniversary of the reclusive state's ruling Workers' Party.
    Vincent Yu/AP
  • "Kim Jong Il! Protect him to the death!" "Kim Jong Il, let's unite to support him!" spectators chanted as the 68-year-old leader walked the length of the platform, appearing to limp slightly and gripping onto the banister.
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    "Kim Jong Il! Protect him to the death!" "Kim Jong Il, let's unite to support him!" spectators chanted as the 68-year-old leader walked the length of the platform, appearing to limp slightly and gripping onto the banister.
    AP Photo/Vincent Yu
  • It was a momentous public debut for Kim Jong Un less than two weeks after he was made a four-star general in the first in a series of appointments that set him firmly on the path to succession, which would carry the Kim dynasty over the communist country into a third generation.
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    It was a momentous public debut for Kim Jong Un less than two weeks after he was made a four-star general in the first in a series of appointments that set him firmly on the path to succession, which would carry the Kim dynasty over the communist country into a third generation.
    Vincent Yu/AP
  • The portrait of Kim Il Sung played above thousands of dancers performing at the Arirang Mass Games.
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    The portrait of Kim Il Sung played above thousands of dancers performing at the Arirang Mass Games.
    Vincent Yu/AP
  • At one point, the dancers seemingly transformed the stadium floor into a vast sea of ocean waves, then a field of trees.
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    At one point, the dancers seemingly transformed the stadium floor into a vast sea of ocean waves, then a field of trees.
    Vincent Yu/AP
  • The question of who will take over leadership of the nuclear-armed nation has been a pressing one since Kim Jong Il reportedly suffered a stroke in 2008.
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    The question of who will take over leadership of the nuclear-armed nation has been a pressing one since Kim Jong Il reportedly suffered a stroke in 2008.
    Ahn Young-joon/AP
  • "The parade served as a sign that the military has loyalty to the successor," said Kim Yong-hyun, an expert on North Korea at Seoul's Dongguk University.
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    "The parade served as a sign that the military has loyalty to the successor," said Kim Yong-hyun, an expert on North Korea at Seoul's Dongguk University.
    Vincent Yu/AP
  • During the parade, soldiers goose-stepped around the decorated plaza to the accompaniment of a military brass band.
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    During the parade, soldiers goose-stepped around the decorated plaza to the accompaniment of a military brass band.
    Vincent Yu/AP
  • "The choreography of this clearly suggested this was all about presenting him to the public," journalist James Miles says.
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    "The choreography of this clearly suggested this was all about presenting him to the public," journalist James Miles says.
    Vincent Yu/AP
  • The nighttime celebration in Pyongyang exploded into a grand spectacle of fireworks, patriotic music and color.
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    The nighttime celebration in Pyongyang exploded into a grand spectacle of fireworks, patriotic music and color.
    Vincent Yu/AP
  • Thousands of dancers performed intricately choreographed routines.
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    Thousands of dancers performed intricately choreographed routines.
    Vincent Yu/AP
  • The evening spectacle included thousands of dancers, musicians and spectators.
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    The evening spectacle included thousands of dancers, musicians and spectators.
    Vincent Yu/AP
  • A select group of media outlets was allowed into the country to cover the festivities, and were given front-row seats at the two events where the Kims appeared: a performance of the Arirang Mass Games spectacle Saturday and the military parade.
    Hide caption
    A select group of media outlets was allowed into the country to cover the festivities, and were given front-row seats at the two events where the Kims appeared: a performance of the Arirang Mass Games spectacle Saturday and the military parade.
    Vincent Yu/AP

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North Korea introduced its heir apparent, Kim Jong Un, to its people in a massive military parade Sunday. The reclusive country marked the 65th anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party with a celebration that was televised live — for the first time ever — underlining the importance of the coming-out party.

The day was all about North Korea putting on a show for the world. The world's press had been invited along to see the goose-stepping soldiers cradling their rifles, the military bands, the tanks and missiles trundling past. Most of all, everyone was waiting to see the debut on the world stage of the man known as the "Young General," Kim Jong Il's third son, Kim Jong Un.

Thousands upon thousands of people took part in the parade through Pyongyang's main square.  Until two weeks ago, they had no idea what Kim Jong Un even looked like.  But now, the 20-something has become a four-star general — and has been installed as official successor. A guide for the foreign journalists, Kim Chong Gil, described how North Koreans think of the man who will be their next leader.

"He is very young," he says. "Wise leadership, and he loves the people and all our country. We, all Koreans, like him."

After a long wait at Kim Il Sung Plaza, parade spectators suddenly stood and faced the rostrum in hopes of seeing Kim Jong Il. The big question was whether his son and heir would appear with him — and whether he might say his first words in public.

Kim Jong Un did indeed appear, surrounded by military, wearing a black suit and clapping his hands. The crowd roared, clapped and cheered. Kim Jong Il, too, appeared at his son's side.

Kim Jong Un

Kim Jong Un, the son of North Korea leader Kim Jong Il, stands with a general during a massive military parade marking the 65th anniversary of the communist nation's ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang on Sunday. Vincent Yu/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Vincent Yu/AP

The father and son stood a short distance apart; Kim Jong Il looked frail, and after an hour and a half had to hold onto the railings for support.  The 68-year-old is believed to have suffered a stroke two years ago.

The moment of pure political theater was highly symbolic. James Miles, of The Economist, first visited Pyongyang 14 years ago; he says Kim Jong Un's first public appearance was designed for domestic consumption.

"The choreography of this clearly suggested this was all about presenting him to the public," Miles says. "Having him stand next to his father, right over the portrait of the great founder of North Korea, president Kim Il Sung — the father of Kim Jong Il, the grandfather of Kim Jong Un. This was all about showing the family to the people of North Korea."

Interestingly, a senior Chinese official, Zhou Yongkang, sat next to Kim Jong Il for the entire ceremony, signaling Beijing's continuing support for its traditional ally. On this occasion, neither of the Kims spoke in public. But this is only the start of the succession process.

Very little is known about Kim Jong Un, who studied at a Swiss boarding school.  But as the state propaganda machine gears up, the younger Kim will have to work to build up his legitimacy.

"Kim Jong Il has gone out with his son to inspect new housing in Pyongyang. That's the only thing we've seen of him taking part in something that looks like a leadership role," Miles says. "Even though he's No. 2 in military hierarchy, all that he's done in a military sense is stand up there on the podium and look at tanks and missiles rumble past."

As the enormous rally drew to an end, thousands of civilians waving red and pink flowers lined up in Kim Il Sung Plaza, singing a patriotic song.  Some of the men wept openly as they stared at their leaders. For them, this was a political show — a test of their loyalty to the regime. And for North Korea, it's a display of internal strength and unity, of the people rallying behind their leaders, present and future.

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