- - 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.

“If you look at this funeral and memorial process, it is a means to show a people who cannot revolt the unity of their political leadership,” said Kim Byung-ki, a security specialist at Korea University in the South Korean capital, Seoul.

“Nothing is surprising,” added Kim Tae-woo, president of the Korean Institute of National Unification, in Seoul. “This will be quicker in the transition of power than his father’s 17 years ago. They are doing everything very quickly.”

Andrei Lankov, a North Korea analyst at Seoul’s Kookmin University, said the ascension of the third Kim makes the Stalinist nation a “kind of neofeudal state.”

“Its rhetoric and symbology is communist. Its economy is a primitive market economy like Africa, and its social structure is based on hierarchical hereditary groups like medieval Europe,” he said.

Tim Peters, an American missionary in Seoul, who assists North Korean defectors in China and South Korea, called the funeral and memorial service “completely incongruous with reality.”

“It is a painful thing to watch this outpouring of emotion for someone who has been one of the most terrible despots of the 20th and 21st centuries,” he said.

Beyond Pyongyang, North Korea’s infrastructure has decayed. Much of the populace is destitute, with per-capita income thought to be about one-fortieth that of South Korea’s.

Human rights abuses are rampant in labor and re-education camps. The United Nations estimates that one-quarter of the population is undernourished and perhaps 10 percent of the population died in famines in the late 1990s.

In Washington, the State Department announced that it is dispatching a top U.S. diplomat to China, South Korea and Japan next week to discuss the transition in North Korea.

Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, will be the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the region since the death of Kim Jong-il.

Kim Jong-il, who led the nation of 24 million people with absolute power, died of a heart attack at age 69, according to state media.

Attention turned to Kim Jong-un after he was revealed last year as his father’s choice among three known sons to carry the Kim dynasty into a third generation, the Associated Press reported.

The process to groom him was rushed compared with the 22 years Kim Jong-il had to prepare to take over from his father, and relied heavily on the Kim family bloodline and legacy as guerrilla fighters and the nation’s founders.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.