|The expected transfer of power could have unpredictable consequences for the region, South Korea says [Reuters]
North Korea has begun three days of celebrations to mark 65 years since the founding of the country's Communist Workers' Party.
For the first time, international media outlets, including Al Jazeera, are getting a rare glimpse inside the communist state - where the celebrations are to be broadcast live from the capital, Pyongyang.
But the festivities, which culminate in a large military parade in the capital on Sunday, are more than an event to mark the anniversary of communist rule.
North Korean officials are expected to use the celebrations to confirm the historic handover of power from ailing leader Kim Jong-il to his son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-un.
Yang Hyong Sop, a senior official in the country's ruling party, told AP on Friday that North Koreans will be honoured to follow Kim Jong-un.
"Our people take pride in the fact that they are blessed with great leaders from generation to generation," Yang said.
"Our people are honoured to be led by the great president Kim Il Sung and the great general Kim Jong-il. Now we also have the honour of being led by General Kim Jong-un."
Kim Jong-il announced his youngest known son's appointment to two important political posts late last month, according to state media, in what was regarded as the first step in his succession plan.
The senior Kim came to power when his father died of heart failure in 1994, setting in motion the communist world's first hereditary transfer of power.
He was officially chosen as successor in 1972, when he was elected to the party's central committee, and the same scenario could hold true for his son.
The question of who will take over from the elder Kim, believed to suffer from a host of ailments, is important to regional dynamics as well as security, because of North Korea's active nuclear and missile programmes, and regular threats it makes against rival South Korea.
Kim Tae-young, South Korea's defence chief, said on Friday that the US and South Korea should be prepared for a crisis in North Korea when the senior Kim leaves power.
The expected transfer of power could have unpredictable consequences in the nation, he warned, during a news conference with his US counterpart, Robert Gates, at the Pentagon.
But it is unclear whether the formal handover of power will happen any time soon.
Gates, the US defence secretary, said it remains to be seen whether a change in leadership will lead to broader political change in the country.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies