North Korean leader gets top party post
By Kim Young-jin
North Korea named leader Kim Jong-un as first secretary of the ruling Worker’s Party, Wednesday, a new title that appears to be the top party post, while his late father was anointed as “Eternal General Secretary.”
The moves came during a special party conference, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.
Kim Jong-il, who died of a heart attack in December, was given the post in accordance with “the unanimous will and desire of all party members and the people," the KCNA said.
The meeting came at a critical moment as the North celebrates the 100th anniversary of its founder Kim Il-sung’s birth, which falls Sunday, by which time it proclaimed it will become a “strong and prosperous” state.
“Kim Jong-un showed the North Korean population that he has filial piety to his late father by dedicating the general secretary post to him,” Park Young-ho, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said. “The first secretary is now the top post of the politburo and the party.”
Analysts say Kim could be elevated to chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission when the North’s rubber-stamping parliament meets Friday, formalizing his succession.
Kim Il-sung was proclaimed “Eternal President” after his death in 1994.
Meanwhile, Pyongyang said earlier in the day it had begun fueling a long-range rocket ahead of a controversial launch that it has tied to the landmark date.
"We are injecting fuel as we speak," Paek Chang-ho, head of the satellite control center at the Korean Committee for Space Technology, was quoted as saying by AFP.
While Pyongyang claims the launch _ slated to take place between today and Monday _ is for peaceful purposes, Seoul and other governments see it as cover to advance its long-range missile program and a violation of U.N. Security Council (UNSC) resolutions.
The conference was just the fourth of its kind in the North’s history.
The young Kim, thought to be in his late twenties, made his debut as heir apparent during the last conference in 2010 when he was made a four-star general and vice chairman of the Central Military Commission.
An editorial in the party’s mouthpiece, the Rodong Sinmun, said all party members must “learn the greatness” of the new leader and “faithfully follow his leadership."
The meeting was being watched for personnel moves to bolster Kim’s power.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that Kim Jong-gak, a senior military officer, has been named Pyongyang’s defense chief. He recently penned an essay in the Rodong Sinmun pledging his support to Kim Jong-un.
It was also reported that Choe Ryong-hae, a party official and Hyon Chol-hae, a defense official, were promoted to vice marshals of the People’s Army. Both are said to be close to the ruling family.
The launch has drawn international anger as many believe it will help the North develop a long-range missile capable of delivering a nuclear payload. Intelligence officials say the North has also begun preparations for a third nuclear test.
On Tuesday, regional players urged Pyongyang to stand down.
"We will be pursuing appropriate action," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters on Tuesday after bilateral talks with her Japanese counterpart Koichiro Gemba, in Washington.
Both U.S. and Seoul officials have said the matter is likely to be taken up at the UNSC.
The late Kim became the party’s general secretary in 1997, three years after his father’s death. But analysts say the new leader’s progress has been accelerated to ensure regime stability.
Events celebrating the founder’s birth will include a massive military parade and cultural events. A new hydroelectric plant has already been opened for the occasion.
The North, which walked out of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, is believed to posses several nuclear warheads. It has credited Kim Jong-il for developing the program as part of his legacy.