Massed ranks of military and party leaders pledged complete loyalty to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un yesterday on the second anniversary of his father’s death, at a time of growing concern over the regime’s stability.
The vows of obedience, at an elaborate gathering in Pyongyang honoring Kim’s father and former leader Kim Jong-il, followed the shock execution last week of the young leader’s uncle and one-time political mentor, Jang Song-thaek.
Jang’s purge raised questions about factional infighting at the top of the Pyongyang hierarchy, prompting both Seoul and Washington to warn of possible provocative acts by the nuclear-armed North.
State television showed tens of thousands of military and party officials sitting stony-faced in pin-drop silence for several minutes, before rising to greet Kim Jong-un with thunderous applause as he took his place on the leadership podium.
“We should be warriors to safeguard the party center with our lives... with the conviction that we know no one but the great comrade Kim Jong-un,” ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong-nam, said in an opening address.
He added that the country had made “great strides” in the two years since Kim Jong-un took over after his father’s death.
Under Kim Jong-un’s leadership, North Korea has successfully placed a satellite in orbit and in February this year conducted its third — and most powerful — nuclear test.
The mass meeting also heard a keynote address by top military leader Choe Ryong-hae, who some analysts believe had a hand in the ousting and execution of Jang — long seen as the nation’s unofficial No. 2.
The military will support “our supreme commander, under any storms and hardships,” said Choe, a close Kim Jong-un confidant who holds the military rank of vice marshal and is director of the Korean People’s Army’s general political department.
“We will share the fate with our respected supreme commander by living and dying with him until the very last moment,” he said, while firing off a warning at rival South Korea. “If the enemies drop a single drop of fire on our motherland, our soldiers will immediately storm out to wipe out all the invaders and achieve unification.”
There was no sign on the leadership podium of Kim Jong-un’s aunt and Jang’s widow, Kim Kyong-hui — a major political player in her own right who holds the military rank of four-star general.
The Korean Central News Agency said Kim Jong-un had visited his father’s mausoleum on Monday, in the company of his wife Ri Sol-ju. Ri has not been seen since October, prompting speculation she may also have fallen out of favor.