New leadership style on display in North Korea

PYONGYANG - North Korea's new leader delivered his first major public speech yesterday as the impoverished state celebrated the centenary of its founder's birth, a break in style from his reticent father's despite the predictably jingoistic message.

A jowly Kim Jong Un, clad in black, read monotonously from a script in Pyongyang's central square after goose-stepping soldiers and sailors showcased the North's military power in a parade in spring sunshine.

Given Mr Kim Jong Il's years of silence, North Korea specialists said the speech was likely another attempt to remind people of happier days under Mr Kim Il Sung, a revered and avuncular figure the new ruler closely resembles.

Mr Kim Jong Il is believed to have spoken just once during a major public occasion in his 17 years in power - and that was a single sentence.

Mr Kim Jong Un also said the ruling party was determined that North Koreans, "the world's best and who have endured so many challenges and faithfully served the party, will no longer have to tighten their belts and will fully enjoy socialist prosperity".

"Kim Jong Un, unlike his father, appears to seek a new leadership style that emphasises communication and interaction with the public, just like his grandfather did in the past," said Dr Cheong Seong Chang of South Korea's Sejong Institute.

It was the best look yet the outside world has had of the young Kim, who is believed to be in his late 20s.

Smiling and joking with generals on a podium after the speech, Mr Kim watched as the country's missiles were paraded, a reminder that despite last Friday's embarrassing failure to launch a rocket, North Korea still packs a punch.

The hermetic country also departed from its usual practice of not telling its population about embarrassing failures when state television last Friday broadcast news that a rocket had failed to put a satellite into orbit.

But it also continued to churn out reams of propaganda aimed at bolstering the legitimacy of Mr Kim Jong Un and his claim to power based on his bloodline.

"Superiority in military technology is no longer monopolised by imperialists, and the era of enemies using atomic bombs to threaten and blackmail us is forever over," Mr Kim said in his speech.

Punctuating his message that the North will continue to pour funds into its military, the parade culminated with the unveiling of a new long-range missile, though it's not clear how powerful or significant the addition to the North Korean arsenal is.

Some analysts suggested it might have been a dummy designed to dupe outside observers. North Korea is also believed to be readying a third nuclear test, based on satellite images and a past pattern of rocket launches followed by tests.

Without real weight in the international arena, North Korea is forced to rely on bluster reinforced by periodic rocket launches and nuclear tests.


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