Dec. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s new leader, stood on a balcony above Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square named for his grandfather, where tens of thousands of people gathered to hear eulogies that ended a period of national mourning for his father.
State television today broadcast Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, praising the achievements of Kim Jong Il, and images of a smiling portrait of the dictator erected in the square. Red banners adorned buildings with the words: “Let’s serve the idea and leadership of respected Kim Jong Un with steadfast loyalty!”
The memorial services, which featured silent prayers, artillery salutes and vows of allegiance to Kim Jong Un, are designed to bolster the standing of the new leader. The stability of North Korea, which the U.S. estimates has enough plutonium for a half-dozen nuclear devices, may depend on backing the younger Kim gets from regime stalwarts like Kim and Politburo member Choe Thae Bok.
“The fact that veteran politicians like Choe and Kim were today’s keynote speakers, shows that the regime will for the time being maintain the status quo -- a system centered around the young Kim with key elders supporting him,” said Yang Moo Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “The ceremony marked the end of a Kim Jong Il-era, thus proclaiming the de facto start of a Kim Jong Un era.”
At both yesterday’s funeral and today’s ceremony, Kim Jong Un was surrounded by members of the North Korean ruling elite. His uncle, Jang Song Thaek, walked behind him yesterday as they accompanied the hearse carrying Kim Jong Il’s body through the capital’s snow-covered streets.
“With bloody tears for our deceased Great General, we vow to hold Kim Jong Un high as another general, supreme leader of ours,” Kim said in his eulogy, according to a report by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.
People in the square stood with their heads bowed as a three-minute siren sounded, marking the end of the period of mourning. State-run KCTV broadcast a military choir singing “The Song of General Kim Jong Il” as the ceremony ended.
State media have sketched the image of the younger Kim, thought to be 28 or 29, solidifying his hold on succession, referring to him as “supreme leader of the revolutionary armed forces” and “great successor” to his late father and grandfather.
“Authorities are trying to indirectly communicate to the people that the transition is stable, that the new leader is stable,” Kim Yong Hyun, a professor of North Korea studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, said after yesterday’s funeral.
Concerns that the political outlook in the North could worsen contributed to a slump in consumer confidence in South Korea, which fell to a three-month low in December, according to a survey released Dec. 27. The Kospi slid 3.4 percent on Dec. 19 when Kim Jong Il’s death was announced, then rallied 4 percent the next two trading days. The Kospi was up 0.4 percent at 2:32 p.m. today in Seoul.
Observers around the world are scrutinizing images from the memorial and yesterday’s funeral for signs of changes in the regime’s power hierarchy under its new leader.
It is difficult to tell whether a regency-type system will develop, led by Kim Jong Un’s uncle Jang Song Thaek, Kim said. “For now, it’s evident that the system is being centered around Kim Jong Un,” he said.
--With assistance from Peter Hirschberg in Hong Kong. Editors: Peter Hirschberg, Brett Miller
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