- - Thursday, December 29, 2011

SEOUL North Koreans on Thursday bade a final farewell to “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il during an elaborate memorial ceremony that established his son Kim Jong-un as his successor and “supreme leader” of the secretive, totalitarian regime.

Thursday’s memorial in the capital, Pyongyang, was less emotional than Wednesday’s funeral. But like the previous event, it showcased precise, mass choreography.

Hundreds of thousands of people crowded into a square named for Kim-Jong-un’s grandfather and founder of the communist nation, Kim Il-sung.

The ceremony also indicated that North Korea’s 1.2 million-strong military, which was featured prominently in the funeral procession, remains central in this militaristic nation. The crowd appeared to be predominantly composed of soldiers.

Most critically, the service delivered the clearest signal yet that Kim Jong-un successfully inherited the country’s leadership.

The younger Mr. Kim, 27, inherits a nation beset by severe food shortages, a crumbling economy, acute power shortages and a nuclear-weapons program that has brought international sanctions.

The United Nations has estimated that 6 million people, about a quarter of the population, are at risk of starving.

Kim Jong-un’s only official title is vice chairman of the Korean Workers’ Party Central Military Commission. However, since his father’s death Dec. 17, he has been lauded by state media as “successor” and “leader.”

Kim Yong-nam, head of the Supreme Presidium of the Korean Workers’ Party and nominal head of state, declared Kim Jong-un the “supreme leader of our party, military and people.”

“The fact that he completely resolved the succession matter is Great Comrade Kim Jong-il’s most noble achievement,” he said in a speech from the balcony of the Grand People’s Study House overlooking the square.

In a separate speech, Gen. Kim Jong-gak, head of the military bureau that monitors officers’ loyalty, called Kim Jong-un “the supreme leader of our revolutionary armed forces.”

The new leader, dressed in black and flanked by party officials and generals, presided over events in the center of the balcony.

Following an example set by his father, he made no remarks to the crowd. Kim Jong-il made only one public pronouncement during his nearly 17 1/2-year reign, when he blurted “Long live the glorious Korean People’s Army” during a military parade.

The official party included two people who are expected to guide the untested new leader as he consolidates power: Jang Song-thaek, vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, and Mr. Jang’s wife, Kim Kyong-hui, a member of the Communist Party’s Politburo, who is also Kim Jong-un’s aunt.

Analysts said stability and unity were the key messages of the memorial service.

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