October 10, 2005

Military pledges support as N.Korea ponders future

By Jack Kim

PYONGYANG (Reuters) - North Korea marked the ruling
communist party's 60th anniversary on Monday with a pledge by
the military to crush any attempt to topple leader Kim Jong-il
amid outside speculation he may soon name an heir.

A smiling, applauding Kim made a rare public appearance at
a central Pyongyang square named after his father, Kim Il-sung,
the vast expanse decked out with huge flags for a military

Thousands of brown-uniformed soldiers goose-stepped across
the square, pink balloons flew overhead and citizens with red
and purple plastic flowers in their hands shouted out: "Kim
Jong-il, we unite as one" in honor of the man they call the
Dear Leader.

"If the United States, Japan and powers that follow them
should create war on this land, we will punish them
mercilessly," Defense Minister Kim Il-chol vowed, Kyodo news
agency reported.

"We will, with our lives, protect the lives of the
revolutionary leadership led by Comrade Kim Jong-il," the
Japanese agency reported him as saying in a speech on the

The birthday of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) is a time
when the reclusive country revels in mass games and provides
its citizens with a few extra bowls of rice to celebrate.

But for this anniversary, outside attention has been
focused on whether Kim Jong-il will name one of his three sons
to a key post in the ruling party, which in effect would amount
to naming a successor-in-waiting in the world's only communist

Last week the Russian news agency Itar-Tass quoted a
diplomatic source in Pyongyang as saying Kim may use the event
to announce an heir. Analysts said the precise timing and which
son he would pick were anyone's guess.

It was equally possible no announcement would be made.


The eldest of his known sons, Kim Jong-nam, has apparently
fallen into disfavor for trying to sneak into Japan on a false
passport to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

The other two, Jong-chol and Jong-un, are in their 20s and
may be too young to be named leader-in-waiting, analysts said.

Kim Seung-whan, a North Korea expert for the Center for
Strategic and International Studies, said Kim Jong-il must lay
the groundwork before naming a successor.

"If Kim Jong-il picks one of his sons as the North's next
leader, he and his successor will have to face some harsh
resistance from political and military leaders," the expert

In that context, the defense minister's remarks underscored
the leadership status quo. Kim Jong-il's number two called on
Sunday for the military to be strengthened further.

At 63, Kim Jong-il is about the same age his father was in
1974 when he made his son secretary to the WPK Central

That appointment was tantamount to Kim Il-sung tapping
Jong-il as his successor, analysts said.

Couples strolled hand in hand on Monday on the streets of
the capital under a picture-perfect blue sky, some in western
clothes, some women and girls wearing the traditional pink and
blue Korean dress.

"The party of steel, the party of no deceit," read one of
the many celebratory banners.

Han Sung-chol, the guide for a South Korean delegation,
beamed with pride, saying: "You came on a great day."

The most pressing public concerns for North Korea's leaders
these days are not who will take over from Kim Jong-il.

Instead, Pyongyang may be preoccupied with setting out
diplomatic priorities for the next round of multilateral talks
scheduled for November on ending its nuclear weapons programs.

Although Kim Jong-il sits as WPK general secretary,
analysts said his real power comes from his post as chairman of
the National Defense Commission.

On Sunday, Kim attended a mass display celebrating the
party anniversary. Thousands of people shuffled flash cards in
perfect unison to form huge pictures, while a group of
sword-swinging women danced and high-kicked in mini-skirted
military garb.

(With additional reporting by Cheon Jong-woo in Seoul)