North Korea strengthens leader’s role

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Kim Jong-il’s son has been identified as head of a top decision-making body of the ruling Workers’ Party, a post that now gives him authority over political as well as military matters in North Korea.

A week after state media reported leader Kim Jong-il’s death on December 17, the campaign to install successor Kim Jong Un gained momentum.

On Saturday, state media referred to him as “supreme leader” of North Korea’s 1.2 million-strong armed forces and said the military’s top leaders had pledged their loyalty to him.

Yesterday, the North’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said North Korean soldiers are upholding a slogan urging them to dedicate their lives “to protect the party’s Central Committee headed by respected Comrade Kim Jong-un.”

Kim Jong-il, whom state media said died of a heart attack, ruled North Korea as head of three main state organs: the Workers’ Party, the Korean People’s Army and the National Defence Commission.

His father, North Korea founder Kim Il-sung, meanwhile, remains the nation’s “eternal president” long after his 1994 death.

Kim Jong-un, who is in his late 20s and was revealed last year as his father’s choice among three sons for successor, is the third generation Kim to rule the nation of 24 million. He was named a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party, but was expected to ascend to new military and political posts while being groomed as the next leader.

The slogan, which state media had frequently used when rallying support for Kim Jong-il, made clear the son is quickly moving toward leadership of the Workers’ Party, one of the country’s highest positions, in addition to the military.

Kim Jong-il’s funeral will take place tomorrow followed by a memorial service on Thursday.

Also yesterday, a private delegation of 18 South Koreans paid their respects to Kim Jong-un during a permitted visit to Pyongyang for the funeral.