- Associated Press - Friday, December 14, 2012

PYONGYANG, North Korea — A triumphant North Korea staged a mass rally of soldiers and civilians Friday to glorify the country’s young ruler, who took a big gamble this week in sending a satellite into orbit in defiance of international warnings.

Wednesday’s rocket launch came just eight months after a similar attempt ended in an embarrassing public failure, and just under a year after Kim Jong Un inherited power following his father’s death.

The surprising success of the launch may have earned Kim global condemnation, but at home, the gamble paid off, at least in the short term. To his people, it made the 20-something Kim appear powerful, capable and determined in the face of foreign adversaries.

Workers’ Party Secretary Kim Ki Nam told the crowd, bundled up against a winter chill in the heart of the capital, that “hostile forces” had dubbed the launch a missile test. He denied the claim and called on North Koreans to stand their ground against the “cunning” critics.

In response, the tens of thousands of North Koreans who packed snowy Kim Il Sung Square clenched their fists in a unified show of resolve as a military band tooted horns and pounded on drums.

Huge red banners positioned in the square called on North Koreans to defend Kim Jong Un with their lives. They also paid homage to Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, and his grandfather, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung.

Pyongyang says the rocket put a crop and weather monitoring satellite into orbit. Much of the rest of the world sees it as a thinly disguised test of banned long-range missile technology. It could bring a fresh round of U.N. sanctions that would increase his country’s international isolation. At the same time, the success of the launch could strengthen North Korea’s military, the only entity that poses a potential threat to Kim’s rule.

To his people, the launch’s success, 14 years after North Korea’s first attempt, shows more than a little of the gambling spirit in the third Kim to rule North Korea since it became a country in 1948.

“North Korean officials will long be touting Kim Jong Un as a gutsy leader” who commanded the rocket launch despite being new to the job and young, said Kim Byung-ro, a North Korea specialist at Seoul National University in South Korea.

The propaganda machinery churned into action early Friday, with state media detailing how Kim Jong Un issued the order to fire off the rocket just days after scientists fretted over technical issues, ignoring the chorus of warnings from Washington to Moscow against a move likely to invite more sanctions.

Top officials followed Kim’s suit in defiantly shrugging off the international condemnation of the launch.

Workers’ Party Secretary Kim Ki Nam told the crowd Friday that “hostile forces” had dubbed the launch a missile test. He rejected the claim, and rallied North Koreans to stand their ground against the “cunning” critics.

North Korea called the satellite a gift to Kim Jong Un’s late father, Kim Jong Il, who is said to have set the lofty goal of getting a satellite into space and then tapped his son to see it into fruition. The satellite, which North Korean scientists say is designed to send back data about crops and weather, was named Kwangmyongsong, or “Lode Star” — the nickname legendarily given to the elder Kim at birth.

Kim Jong Il died on Dec. 17, 2011, making the successful launch a fitting mourning tribute. State TV have been replaying video of the launch to “Song of Gen. Kim Jong Il.”

But it is the son who will bask in the glory of the accomplishment, as well as face the international censure that may follow.

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