N. Korea's Kim gives first speech at centenary parade
PYONGYANG, North Korea - Agence France-Presse
AFP PhotoNorth Korea's new leader Kim Jong-Un delivered his first public speech today and vowed to push for "final victory" for his impoverished state despite a failed rocket launch two days ago.
"We must strengthen our military in every possible way... and accomplish the goal of building a powerful and prosperous socialist state," he told troops and civilians packing a square named after his grandfather Kim Il-Sung, the country's founder.
"The time when the enemy threatens and blackmails us with atomic bombs has gone for good," Jong-Un said in reference to the nuclear weapons programme touted as one of the greatest achievements of the family dynasty.
The parade marking 100 years since the birth of Kim Il-Sung came just two days after a satellite launch timed to mark the centenary fizzled out embarrassingly, when the rocket apparently exploded within minutes of blastoff.
But Jong-Un, aged in his late 20s and in power for less than four months, appeared confident as he oversaw a parade featuring rockets, artillery, tanks and thousands of goose-stepping troops.
Jong-Un, clad in his customary dark Mao suit, said peace is valuable to the North as it tried to build a powerful country and improve living standards. "However, dignity of the nation and sovereignty of the country is more valuable for us," he added.
The North went ahead with the satellite launch despite strong opposition from the United States and its allies, who saw it as a disguised ballistic missile test.
Washington has scrapped plans to deliver 240,000 tonnes of food aid to the North, which suffers persistent severe food shortages while it spends massively on its military.
The regime for years has vowed to strive to raise living standards.
Jong-Un said the ruling party was determined that North Koreans, "the world's best and who have endured so many challenges and faithfully served the party, will no longer have to tighten their belts and will fully enjoy socialist prosperity." After the speech, thousands of troops from a variety of units -- both from the regular 1.2 million-strong military and universities and secondary schools -- staged a march past.
Diesel fumes filled the square as vehicles displaying an array of weaponry drove past -- trucks with multiple rocket launchers, tanks, armoured personnel carriers, artillery and an array of short- and medium-range missiles.
Five aircraft staged a fly-past.
A sea of people using red, yellow and white paper flowers formed giant displays of the names of the Kims, the national and communist party flags and slogans such as "Glory" and "Undefeatable army". Some spectators at the parade said one missile appeared new.
Ham Hyeong-Pil of South Korea's Korea Institute for Defense Analyses said the weapon-- apparently longer than its existing Musudan mid-range missile -- appeared to be the country's new long-range missile.
"The Musudan, about 12 metres long, is believed to have a range of 3,000 to 4,000 kilometres. But this one appears to be capable of reaching at least 1,000 kilometres further," Ham told AFP. "It is certain that the North has developed a new long-range missile," he said. Ham, after seeing partial photos of the new weapon, had earlier said it was apparently a Musudan mid-range missile first unveiled in October 2010, but only repainted in military camouflage colours. Christian Lardier, a specialist with the French magazine Air and Cosmos who watched the parade, said he noted a new missile compared to October 2010.
He told AFP it was a Taepodong-class missile about 20 metres (66 feet) long and the first stage was identical to that of the Unha rocket fired on Friday.
Kim Il-Sung died in 1994 after bequeathing power to his son Kim Jong-Il. The current leader was thrust into the top post unexpectedly early when his own father Jong-Il died of a heart attack last December.
He has since been cementing his grip on power, taking up top-level posts in the ruling party and on the powerful National Defence Commission last week.
The new leader has a more outgoing image than his father. Kim Jong-Il is believed to have spoken just once at a major public occasion during his 17 years in power -- and that was a single sentence.
Jong-Un, smiling and chatting with military leaders, waved and saluted throughout the parade from a balcony decorated with giant portraits of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il.
"Kim Jong-Un, unlike his father, appears to seek a new leadership style that emphasises communication and interaction with the public, just like his grandfather did in the past," said Cheong Seong-Chang of South Korea's Sejong Institute.
But the dynasty is still the subject of an all-pervasive personality cult. Portraits of Kim Il-Sung abound in the showpiece capital, where residence is restricted to those seen as most loyal to the regime.
In South Korea, North Korean defectors and activists launched balloons carrying about 200,000 leaflets into the North near the heavily fortified border to condemn the power succession and the rocket launch.