Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans rallied yesterday in the freezing cold to celebrate the country’s rocket launch, staging a choreographed show of defiance under their youthful leader’s “endless” wisdom.
The enormous rally in central Pyongyang, shown on state television, came two days after the launch of the three-stage rocket and just ahead of Monday’s anniversary of the death of new leader Kim Jong-un’s father, former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
The West fears the launch has taken the nuclear-armed state a step closer to firing intercontinental ballistic missiles across the planet and it has provoked UN Security Council condemnation along with calls for more sanctions.
Refuelling its criticism of Wednesday’s launch, the US State Department said Kim had the chance as new leader “to take his country back into the 21st century,” but instead was making the “wrong choices.”
Unbowed, North Korean state media said Kim, who is in his late 20s, had personally signed off on the rocket launch and had declared his regime’s “unshakable stand” that the program would continue.
Kim stressed the need “to launch satellites in the future ... to develop the country’s science, technology and economy,” according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) as it gave new details of the launch.
The “dear respected Marshal” visited mission control an hour before the rocket took off on Wednesday morning and praised the “ardent loyalty and patriotic devotion” of the technical team, KCNA said in the report early yesterday.
The report gave no reaction to the international opprobrium that has been heaped on North Korea since the rocket went up, ostensibly to place a research satellite in orbit, with even close ally China expressing its “regrets.”
However, yesterday’s rally was an emphatic demonstration of organized support for the Kim dynasty, as the massed ranks of civilians and soldiers chanted their obeisance under giant portraits of Kim’s father and grandfather, North Korean founding leader Kim Il-sung.
Many of the civilians were in dark winter coats, and the soldiers in olive-green overcoats and Russian-style trappers’ hats, as they pumped their fists and chanted: “Long live!” the hour-long broadcast showed.
Addressing the crowd, which stood in organized ranks in Kim Il-sung Square, senior officials lavished praise on the Kim dynasty and its scion for the rocket launch — which came after an April attempt ended in fiery failure.
“This was achieved thanks to the Great Marshal Kim Jong-un’s endless loyalty, bravery and wisdom,” said Jang Chol, president of the State Academy of Sciences, which helps to steer North Korea’s rocket program.
South Korea’s navy has recovered a section of the rocket that splashed into the sea, apparently a fuel tank inscribed with the name of the “Unha-3” rocket, the South Korean Defense Ministry said in Seoul.
“This debris is expected to be an important piece of information in determining North Korea’s rocket capability,” South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said.