KOREA - North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's aunt did not appear at an all-important ceremony Tuesday to mark the second anniversary of the death of Kim's father and former ruler Kim Jong-il, further fanning speculation about her health and influence following her husband's shock execution last week.
Kim Jong-un's wife, Ri Sol-ju, accompanied her husband later in the day to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, which houses the embalmed bodies of Kim Jong-il and North Korea founder Kim Il-sung, in an indication that she was not affected by the purge of Jang Song-thaek despite their presumably close relationship.
Kim Jong-un presided over a massive ceremony at a Pyongyang gymnasium in the morning, flanked by top officials including Choe Ryong-hae, director of the General Political Bureau of the (North) Korean People's Army, who is believed to have gained in clout following Jang's removal.
Many of Jang's associates and old friends turned up despite speculation that they had also been purged, including Deputy Prime Minister Ro Du-chol, United Front Department Director Kim Yang-gon, People's Security Minister Choe Pu-il and party secretary Mun Kyong-dok.
A throng of senior aides and thousands of soldiers attended the event, which was broadcast live on state television, vowing loyalty to Kim Jong-un. They were seen sitting stoically before standing up to greet the young commander-in-chief with thunderous applause as he walked in and took the podium.
"The ideological, spiritual and material foundation and the noble creations to which the great general (Kim Jong-il) devoted his entire life have become eternal seed money for the infinite prosperity of the glorious Kim Jong-un era," the official (North) Korean Central Television said.
The ceremony drew global attention as it offered a glimpse into the reclusive state's leadership reconfiguration following the demise of Jang.
On Kim Jong-un's left were Choe Ryong-hae; Ri Yong-gil, chief of the general staff of the military; and Jang Jong-nam, minister of the People's Armed Forces. Prime Minister Pak Pong-ju and Supreme People's Assembly president Kim Yong-nam were seen on Kim Jong-un's right.
Also on the podium were Kim Won-hong, minister of state security, and Jo Yon-jun, senior deputy director of the ruling Workers' Party's organisation guidance department, who were believed to have devised the idea of Jang's execution.
Twelve officials accompanied the first couple on its trip to the mausoleum including Kim Yong-nam, Pak Pong-ju, Choe Ryong-hae, Ri Yong-gil, Jang Jong-nam and Kim Won-hong.
Kim Jong-un's aunt Kim Kyong-hui, who went there last year together with her husband Jang Song-thaek, was not in this year's delegation. She is believed to have been ill for a while and received medical treatment in Moscow, Singapore and elsewhere.
But Kim Kyong-hui, a four-star general, was nominated to a steering committee for the funeral on Sunday of Kim Kuk-thae, former chairman of the party's control commission.
"No clear signs were detected of a shift in the North's power structure regarding Jang's execution as those known to be close to him showed up at the ceremony and were named to the funeral panel," Seoul's Unification Ministry said in its analysis.
The ceremony was apparently designed to calm public sentiment in the aftermath of Jang's death and to rally the military, party executives and the public behind Kim, promoting the feats of the late and incumbent leaders such as major construction projects.
Thousands of North Korean soldiers also reaffirmed their loyalty to the leader during a mass rally in front of the palace on Monday.
"We revolutionary forces have no one but our dear supreme commander, comrade Kim Jong-un, and will only revere the supreme commander despite any hardships on the earth and in the sky," Choe said during his speech.
The location, scale and programme of this year's event were the same or similar to that of last year, the ministry said.
But unlike last year, state media did not mention Pyongyang's nuclear weapons state as one of Kim Jong-il's achievements.
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)