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North Korea calls Kim Jong-un 'supreme leader'

The public backing for North Korea's 'supreme leader' Kim Jong-un at his father's memorial provides a strong signal that officials have unified around him in the wake of Kim Jong-il's death.

By Associated Press / December 29, 2011

Kim Jong-un is seen during a memorial service for late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, in Pyongyang, North Korea, Thursday. Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il's son and successor, was declared "supreme leader" of North Korea's ruling party, military and the people during the memorial for his father in the first public endorsement of his leadership by the government.

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Pyongyang, North Korea

North Korea's power brokers declared Kim Jong-un the supreme leader at a massive public memorial for his father Kim Jong-il, cementing the Kim family's hold on power for another generation.

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The son, dubbed North Korea's "Great Successor," stood with his head bowed and somber in a dark overcoat on a balcony at the Grand People's Study House overlooking Kim Il-sung Square and watched the memorial that doubled as a show of support for his burgeoning role as leader.

The unequivocal public backing for Kim Jong-un at his father's memorial provides a strong signal that government and military officials have unified around him in the wake of Kim Jong-il's death Dec. 17.

As he stood overlooking a sea of humanity gathered below him in Pyongyang's main square, Kim Jong-un was flanked by top party and military officials, including Kim Jong-il's younger sister, Kim Kyong Hui, and her husband Jang Song Thaek, who are expected to serve as mentors of their young nephew.

"The father's plan is being implemented," Ralph Cossa, president of Pacific Forum CSIS, a Hawaii-based think tank, said of the transfer of power. "All of these guys have a vested interest in the system and a vested interest in demonstrating stability. The last thing they want to do is create havoc."

Given Kim Jong-un's inexperience and age – he is in his late 20s – there are questions outside North Korea about whether he is equipped to lead a nation engaged in long-stalled negotiations over its nuclear program and grappling with decades of economic hardship and chronic food shortages.

But support among North Korea's power brokers was clear at the memorial service, which was attended by hundreds of thousands of people filling Kim Il Sung Square and other plazas in central Pyongyang.

"The fact that he completely resolved the succession matter is Great Comrade Kim Jong-il's most noble achievement," Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, told the massive audience at the square.

"Respected Comrade Kim Jong-un is our party, military and country's supreme leader who inherits great comrade Kim Jong-il's ideology, leadership, character, virtues, grit and courage," said Kim, considered North Korea's ceremonial head of state.

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Thursday's memorial "was an event to publicly reconfirm and solidify" Kim Jong-un's status, said Jeung Young-tae, an analyst with the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, South Korea.

Life in the North Korean capital came to a standstill as mourners dressed in thick, dark colored jackets blanketed the plaza from the Grand People's Study House to the Taedong River for the second day of funeral ceremonies for the late leader. A giant red placard hanging on the front of a building facing Kim Il Sung Square urged the country to rally around Kim Jong-un.

Kim Jong-il, who led his 24 million people with absolute power for 17 years, died Dec. 17, according to state media. He inherited power from his father, North Korea founder Kim Il-sung, who died in 1994, in what was the communist world's first hereditary succession.

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