Soldiers danced in Pyongyang's plazas as North Korea announced Wednesday that leader Kim Jong-un was named marshal, a title consolidating his status atop the authoritarian country's military as he makes key changes to its 1.2 million-strong armed forces.
State media said in a special noon bulletin that North Korea's military, government and political leadership had decided Tuesday to award the top title to Kim, who already is supreme commander of the Korean People's Army.
The decision solidifies Kim's standing seven months into his rule and follows several days of reshuffling at the highest levels of the military.
Soldiers applauded and cheered the news during a meeting at the April 25 House of Culture called by military officers and officials from the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces.
Among the men lined up on stage was the military's new vanguard: four generals promoted to vice-marshal since Kim Jong-un succeed his father Kim Jong-il, who died in December.
Army chief dismissed
The announcement of Kim Jong-un's title and the presentation of the new military leadership comes just three days after the dismissal of army chief Ri Yong-ho, a high-ranking figure in both political and military circles who had been seen as a close adviser to Kim. The government said Ri was ill, but there was widespread speculation abroad of a military reshuffle at the top levels.
A day later, a general named Hyon Yong-chol was promoted to vice-marshal, joining three others named to that rank in February and April.
The title of marshal — held previously by Kim's father and grandfather, North Korea founder Kim Il-sung — is "another brick in the wall of consolidating Kim Jong-un's power, across party, state and military institutions," said John Delury, a North Korea analyst at Yonsei University in South Korea.
"In the wake of Ri's stepping down, it takes on added significance," he said. "Titles, of course, do not ensure authority. But the regime would appear to be closing ranks around their young leader."
Soldiers and students in uniform filled the streets of the capital to celebrate, dancing and singing despite the rain.
One by one, Kim Jong-un has collected top posts in the military and party, including first chairman of the National Defence Commission, first secretary of the ruling Workers' Party, chairman of the party's Central Military Commission and member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau. He was made supreme commander of the military in December, just days after his father's death from a heart attack.
As leader, the young Kim has continued to maintain his father's policy of "songun," or military first, and has sought to inspire loyalty with visits to military units, often with Ri, the ex-army chief, at his side. However, he also has made building up the economy a priority and promoting officials with economic expertise.