SEOUL - Thousands of North Korean soldiers vowed Monday to protect leader Kim Jong-Un with their lives at a memorial rally for his late father, days after the stunning execution of the leader's uncle.
State TV showed soldiers marching in a square outside the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, which houses the embalmed bodies of the country's founder Kim Il-Sung and of his son Kim Jong-Il, who died on December 17 two years ago.
Kim Jong-Un, who took power after his father's death in the country's second dynastic succession, apparently missed the event.
Soldiers clad in winter hats and coats gathered outside the Pyongyang landmark in freezing weather and reaffirmed loyalty to the young leader.
They marched across the square, some carrying red flags, after chanting "Let's become rifles and shields to safeguard the supreme commander".
Choe Ryong-Hae, head of the military's political bureau, read a letter pledging loyalty and urged the soldiers to protect Kim Jong-Un "at the cost of their lives", according to the North's official news agency.
"All participants solemnly pledged to become human bullets and bombs, with the determination to protect Kim Jong-Un unto death," it said.
Choe, seen as one of the most powerful military figures, said in his televised speech that soldiers, undeterred by "strong winds", would defend the young leader to the death despite the "manoeuvring of betrayers".
North Korea stunned the world last week by announcing the execution of Jang Song-Thaek, the uncle of the young Kim and the man once seen as his political regent.
His execution Thursday for corruption and plotting to overthrow the state - just days after he was ousted from all his party and military positions - marks the biggest political upheaval since Jong-Un inherited power.
The Kim dynasty has ruled the isolated country for more than six decades with an iron fist and a pervasive personally cult.