Kim Jong-un 'supreme leader' of N. Korea military

North Korea hailed Kim Jong-un, son of the late Kim Jong-il, as "supreme leader" of the 1.2-million strong military, ramping up the campaign to install the young man as the nation's next leader.

New title, public show of support from the military leadership

Kim Jong-un (in a black suit),and other military officers make pay respects to their deceased leader Kim Jong-il at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang on Sunday. (Reuters/KCNA)

North Korea hailed Kim Jong-il's son as "supreme leader" of the 1.2-million strong military, ramping up its campaign to install the young man as the nation's next leader even as the mourning for his father continued a week after his death.

Kim Jong-un made a third visit Saturday to the palace where his father's body is lying in state, this time as "supreme leader of the revolutionary armed forces" and accompanied by North Korea's top military brass, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

Jang Song-Thaek

Significant sighting

North Korea state television has aired footage showing North Korean heir Kim Jong-un's uncle and key patron, Jang Song-Thaek, wearing a military uniform with a general's insignia. It's considered a strong sign he'll play a greater role in moves meant to secure the young Kim Jong-un's rise to power after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, a week ago.

The footage Sunday indicates Jang has been appointed to a new military job. Seoul's Unification Ministry said it was the first time Jang had been shown wearing a military uniform on state TV.

The new title and public show of support from the military leadership sent a strong signal that the nation will maintain Kim Jong-il's "military first" policy for the time being.

Earlier Saturday, the newspaper Rodong Sinmun, mouthpiece of the ruling Workers' Party, urged Kim Jong-un to accept the top military post: "Comrade Kim Jong-un, please assume the supreme commandership, as wished by the people."

'Eternal president'

Kim Jong-un, who is in his late 20s and was unveiled in September 2010 as his father's choice as successor, will be the third-generation Kim to rule the nation of 24 million. His father and grandfather led the country under different titles, and it remains unclear which other titles will be bestowed on the grandson.

Kim Il-sung, who founded North Korea in 1948, retains the title of "eternal president" despite his death in 1994.

Son Kim Jong-il ruled as chairman of the National Defence Commission, supreme commander of the Korean People's Army and general secretary of the Workers' Party.

Kim Jong-un was promoted to four-star general and appointed a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party. He had been expected to assume a number of other key posts while being groomed to succeed his father.

His father's death comes at a sensitive time for North Korea, which was in the middle of discussions with the U.S. on food aid and restarting talks to dismantle the North's nuclear weapons program. Chronically short of food and suffering from a shortfall in basic staples after several harsh seasons, officials had been asking for help feeding its people even as North Koreans prepared for 2012 celebrations marking Kim il-Sung's 100th birthday.

North Korea has emphasized the Kim family legacy during the sped-up succession movement for Kim Jong-un. State media invoked Kim il-Sung in declaring the people's support for the next leader, comparing the occasion to Kim Jong Il's ascension to "supreme commander" exactly 20 years ago Saturday.

Silent tribute

At the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, Kim Jong-un and senior commanders paid silent tribute to Kim Jong-il, "praying for his immortality," KCNA said. The military also pledged its loyalty to Kim Jong-un, the report said.

"Let the whole army remain true to the leadership of Kim Jong-un over the army," KCNA reported — a pledge reminiscent of those made when Kim Jong-il was named supreme commander.

The call to rally behind Kim Jong-un, dubbed the "Great Successor" in the wake of his father's death on Dec. 17 from a heart attack, comes amid displays of grief across North Korea. The official mourning period lasts until after Kim's funeral Wednesday and a memorial Thursday.

In Pyongyang, mourners waited in line Saturday to bow and lay flowers at Kim's portrait at plazas and government buildings, including the Pyongyang Circus Theater and the April 25 People's Army House of Culture, even as temperatures dropped to -14 C).

Workers at beverage kiosks handed steaming cups of water to shivering mourners, including children bundled up in colourful thick parkas. A sign urged mourners to thaw out inside a heated bus. The order to provide food and warming huts for mourners came from Kim Jong-un, officials said.

Solemn music

Earlier, a throng of North Koreans climbed steps and placed flowers and wreaths in a neat row below a portrait of Kim Jong-il as solemn music filled the air and young uniformed soldiers, their heads shaved, bowed before his picture.

A sobbing Jong Myong-Hui, a Pyongyang citizen taking a break from shovelling snow, told AP Television News that she came out voluntarily to "clear the way for Kim Jong-il's last journey."

For days, life in Pyongyang had come to a standstill, with shops and restaurants closed. Downtown Koryo Hotel, one of several in Pyongyang catering to foreigners, was nearly empty.

But there are signs that the country is beginning to move on.

"Streets, buses and the metro are all crowded with people going to their work. They are not giving way simply to sorrow," KCNA said. "They are getting over the demise of their leader, promoted by a strong will to closely rally around respected Comrade Kim Jong-un."