Powerful, dramatic scenes in Pyongyang as 65 years of communist rule is celebrated with a military parade.
|The two Kims first appeared together in public at the Arirang mass games venue in Pyongyang [Reuters]|
Kim Jong-il, the leader of North Korea, has appeared alongside his third son and heir apparent Kim Jong-un for the first time on live television at a huge military parade marking the 65th anniversary of the founding of the country’s ruling Workers’ party.
The show of military might on Sunday morning, which officials say is the largest in the country’s history, was meant to be the apex of three days of celebrations.
The public appearance was the second in two days by Kim Jong-un, coinciding with the government’s unusual step of inviting international media outlets, including Al Jazeera, for a rare glimpse inside the communist state.
The festivities, which are being broadcast from the capital, Pyongyang, are not only to mark the anniversary of communist rule. North Korean officials are expected to use the weekend’s celebrations to declare the historic handover of power from ailing leader Kim Jong-il to his son Kim Jong-un.
Rare live broadcast
The live broadcast of the parade at Kim Il-sung Plaza on North Korean state TV is also an unusual departure from broadcasting norms in the country, where any broadcasts are heavily censored.
North Korea’s senior leadership had gathered on Saturday at May Day Stadium for speeches celebrating the occasion.
Later in the evening, Kim Jong-il brought dancers at the gymnastics extravaganza, known as the Arirang Mass Games, to tears by making a rare appearance, accompanied by Kim Jong-un and Zhou Yongkang, the visiting senior Chinese Communist Party official.
Kim Jong-il waved to the crowd, drawing a frenzy of applause from onlookers, in what is believed to be his first appearance at the Arirang spectacle in years.
The two Kims’ appearance turned the Arirang show – part theatre, part circus, and involving some 100,000 performers – into a VIP event attended by wartime heroes, foreign dignitaries and the international press, who were given front-row seats.
The festivities began on Friday night with fireworks that lit up the sky over central Pyongyang.
Students danced across the city’s plazas and brass bands played “Please Receive the Best Wishes of the People,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported.
Yang Hyong Sop, a senior official in the country’s ruling party, told the Associated Press news agency 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.
|From our correspondent:|
“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.”
Mike Chinoy, an expert on Korea, told Al Jazeera the transition process “is still in its early stages”.
“I think at this stage, despite all the speculation to the contrary, my sense is that the transition is proceeding relatively smoothly,” he said.
“I think that the big question is how long will Kim Jong-il stay healthy and stay alive because the longer he does so the better the chances of his son consolidating power and ruling in an effective way.”
Kim Jong-il announced his youngest known son’s appointment to two important political posts late last month 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 Jong-il rules under the songun (military-first) policy with a 1.2 million-member armed services.