Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 August 2019

North Korea marks anniversary of Kim Jong-il's death

Passing of 'Dear Leader' in 2011 brought his son Kim Jong-un to power

North Koreans marked the seventh anniversary of the death of leader Kim Jong-il with visits to statues and vows of loyalty to his son and successor, Kim Jong-un.

Tens of thousands of people offered flowers and paid respects to the late leader at Mansu Hill in central Pyongyang, the site of huge bronze statues of the "Dear Leader" and his father, national founder Kim Il-sung.

The death of Kim Jong-il on December 17, 2011 thrust his son into power when he was still in his late 20s and a virtual unknown figure outside of the North.

Despite many predictions from outside experts that he would not be up to the task, Kim Jong-un has consolidated his power, bolstered the country's economy in the face of intense international sanctions and developed an arsenal of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles capable of reaching the United States — a goal his father and grandfather could only dream of.

With attention focused on the anniversary, there was little mention in the state media of the issues that have received the most attention elsewhere, including a flurry of speculation in South Korea that Mr Kim might visit Seoul by the end of the year.

But the North's official Korean Central News Agency ran a lengthy commentary late on Sunday that slammed the United States for "slander" and "sheer malice" against the country and for dragging its feet on efforts to improve relations after Mr Kim's summit with President Donald Trump in Singapore in June.

The commentary deliberately focused its criticism on the State Department and administration officials, not at Mr Trump, suggesting that Pyongyang remains open to another summit. The US president has suggested he could meet Mr Kim again early next year.

With Mr Kim's power base seemingly more solid than ever, and his recent effort to establish himself on the world stage through summits with Mr Trump and others, North Korea watchers have been on the lookout for signs that his own personality cult is being bolstered.

Pyongyang residents pay their respects at the statues of late North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il on December 17, 2018. AFP
Pyongyang residents pay their respects at the statues of late North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il on December 17, 2018. AFP

Virtually all homes and public offices in North Korea feature portraits of the elder Kims, who are also memorialised in countless statues, mosaics and cenotaphs around the country. North Korean adults wear pins over their hearts bearing the likenesses of Kim Il-sung of Kim Jong-il, or both.

The North has yet to come out with a Kim Jong-un pin or to order his image to join the others on every wall, although Mr Kim and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, have been referred to with increasingly lofty titles — "chairman" for Mr Kim and "respected first lady" for Ms Ri.

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A special portrait of the young chairman was unveiled recently at a ceremony to welcome the visit of Cuba's president, but none have appeared in public since. And unlike his father and grandfather, Mr Kim's January 8 birthday has yet to be declared a national holiday or even marked on calendars.

None of that should be assumed to be a sign of weakness, however.

Mr Kim is generally afforded the same reverential treatment by the state media, and for maintaining a respectful step behind his predecessors, he is credited with showing humility and confidence.

Updated: December 17, 2018 03:39 PM

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