N Korea's late leader becomes 'Generalissimo'

North Korea said Wednesday it has awarded its highest title to late leader Kim Jong-Il on the eve of his 70th birthday, the latest move to burnish Kim's legacy as his son consolidates power.

The announcement that Kim was posthumously appointed "Generalissimo" came a day after a statue of the former strongman was unveiled in Pyongyang, showing him on horseback alongside his own father and national founder Kim Il-Sung.

The North also promoted 23 senior military officers on the orders of Kim Jong-Il's young son and successor Jong-Un, who has been declared supreme commander of the 1.2 million-strong military as well as national leader.

A Korean-language report by the official news agency praised Kim Jong-Il's record in elevating the North into "a nuclear state" that could also produce and launch satellites -- a reference to its controversial missile programme.

The agency's English-language report did not mention the nuclear achievements. North Korean and US officials will meet in Beijing next week for talks on reviving six-nation nuclear disarmament negotiations.

The English report praised Kim, who died on December 17 of a heart attack at age 69, for turning the North into a military power with his Songun (military-first) policy and for leading "the stand-off with imperialism and the US to victory".

The North has declared his birth anniversary on February 16 "The Day of the Shining Star". Commemorative stamps and coins have been produced.

Some 132 people have been awarded a new medal, the Order of Kim Jong-Il, for services in building a "thriving socialist nation" and for increasing defence capabilities.

Efforts to intensify the personality cult around the Kim dynasty, which has ruled the impoverished nation since its founding in 1948, signal that Jong-Un is firmly in power, said Paik Hak-Soon of South Korea's Sejong Institute think-tank.

"It clearly illustrates that Jong-Un's status is being further justified and the North's elite is determined to maintain him in power, largely to protect their vested interest in the system," Paik told AFP.

Pyongyang also announced a promotion to vice marshal for Kim Jong-Gak, seen as one of the key figures helping the inexperienced Jong-Un tighten his grip on the army.

He was one of the seven top officials who accompanied Jong-Un in walking besides the late leader's hearse at the funeral on December 28.

"Kim Jong-Gak has previously been overseeing the military's organisation, its ideological direction and the link with the (ruling) party," Paik said.

His promotion clearly signalled that the party was trying to strengthen its control over the military, which had become too powerful under the Songun policy, the analyst said.

The late Kim's new title of "generalissimo" is the same as that bestowed on his father Kim Il-Sung in 1992. He died of a heart attack in 1994.

South Korea's unification ministry, which handles cross-border affairs, said the level of events staged to mark the late leader's birthday was similar to last year as the regime focuses on the transition.


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