Pyongyang: Pumping their fists and chanting, tens of thousands of North Koreans packed the snowy main square of the capital Tuesday to pledge their loyalty to new leader Kim Jong Un as the campaign to consolidate his power deepened.
State television also aired footage of Kim's recent visit to an elite tank unit with family and historical ties that showed him interacting with ease with soldiers and carrying out inspections much like his father and grandfather did before him. Soldiers cheered and chanted his name as Kim made an inaugural solo trip to provide "on-the-spot guidance" in the first official documentary of the new leader shown on North Korean TV.
The succession campaign to install the third-generation Kim as leader has hastened since Kim Jong Il died more than two weeks ago. He led the country for 17 years after the death of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.
North Korea's neighbours and the United States are keeping close watch on the younger Kim's rise amid uncertainty about how the country will manage a change of leadership during a time of sensitive negotiations over North Korea's nuclear program. Pyongyang and Washington had been engaged in discussions about offering food aid in exchange for nuclear disarmament when Kim died on Dec. 17.
Very little was known about Kim Jong Un, who is in his late 20s, before he was introduced to the world last year when his father made him a four-star general and a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers' Party — a clear signal the young man was his chosen successor.
North Korea has emphasized Kim Jong Un's heritage as heir to North Korea's founding fathers, and has underlined his physical resemblance to the late President Kim Il Sung.
In the documentary of his visit Sunday to a premier tank unit, he was dressed in a long, dark overcoat similar to the coat his grandfather used to wear. He is shown in an exhibition room lined with black-and-white photos, including an image portraying a young Kim Il Sung.
The footage also served to show the confident side of Kim, who chatted easily with soldiers in the documentary shown just days after the ruling party officially proclaimed him supreme commander of the 1.2-million-strong Korean People's Army.
Soldiers applauded and cheered as Kim approached, clapping his gloved hands. He leaned in to pull one man close to him to share a few words, leaving the officer in tears.
"Kim Jong Un's telling the world that even though he's young, he's in charge and capable of wielding a saber like this father did," said Kim Jin-moo, a North Korea expert at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in South Korea.
Even the choice of the tank unit was a nod to history: The Seoul Ryu Kyong Su 105 Guards Tank Division was one of the first North Korean units to enter Seoul in the early days of the 1950-53 Korean War, according to military experts. It was one of Kim Jong Il's favorite bases to visit.
In Pyongyang, meanwhile, Premier Choe Yong Rim led a rally in support of Kim and the country's goals for the new year.
"We once again keep deep in our minds that the victory of building a powerful and prosperous nation is certain, as long as there is the ... wise leadership of respected comrade Kim Jong Un," senior Workers' Party official Mun Gyong Dok told the crowd, according to Associated Press Television News.
It wasn't immediately clear if Kim Jong Un was at the rally.
Crowds beat drums and carried large national flags as they paraded across the square. Some held placards calling for loyalty to Kim and for efforts to improve the economy. People pumped their fists in the air while carrying banners that read "indomitable mental strength."
First Published: Tuesday, January 03, 2012, 18:14