North Korea marked its 62nd anniversary of its founding as speculation mounted over a political succession plan

North Korea has marked its founding 62 years ago on Thursday with patriotic songs and commentaries, and national flags decorating street corners, as speculation mounted over political succession plans.

In Pyonyang, thousands marked the anniversary by placing flowers at the foot of a giant statue of Kim Il-sung, North Korea's founder, and father of current leader Kim Jong-il.

The foundation day comes as speculation mounts over Kim's health and possible successor.

Posters were also put up announcing the party meeting, although an exact date for the gathering had not yet been disclosed.

By Thursday morning there had been no word on whether the meeting, due to take place in "early September", had begun.

State media reported on Monday that delegates to the Workers' Party were gathering in Pyongyang to elect new party leaders, the North's first major political conference in 30 years.

It is reported that Kim will use the meeting to promote his son Kim Jong-un to a key position.

Little is known about Kim Jong-un, including his exact age, and there are no confirmed photos of him as an adult.

Succession plan

Kim Jong-il himself took over leadership after his father died of heart failure in 1994, a handover that was communism's first hereditary transfer of power.

North Korea observers say the party meeting may have been postponed because of
Kim's deteriorating health and recent devastating flooding.

"It's because of Kim Jong-il's health. There is no other reason," Ha Tae-keung, the chief of Open Radio for North Korea, a Seoul-based station specialising in North Korea affairs, said, citing unidentified sources in Pyongyang.

"He has to be in the conference at least five hours even though he will be sitting most of time. I think he's trying to find a day when he is well enough to do that."

Kim, said to be suffering from diabetes and a kidney ailment, reportedly suffered a stroke in 2008, sparking fears about instability and a possible power struggle in the nuclear-armed country if he were to die without anointing a successor.

The founding anniversary is a major holiday in North Korea, along with the birthdays of Kim and his father, who have ruled the country surrounded by strong personality cults.

North Korean state television aired patriotic songs calling for loyalty to Kim, calling him a "great, friendly general".

The country's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper also issued a lengthy editorial urging its 24 million people to unite behind Kim to support his "military-first policy" and achieve an inter-Korean unification.

Source: Agencies