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The United Nations has estimated that one-fourth of North Korea’s 24 million people need outside food aid and that malnutrition is surging, especially among children.

The official New Year’s message from the Korean Central News Agency said the threadbare nation will build a “great, prosperous and powerful” state to honor the 100th birthday of Kim Il-sung in April.

“Glorify this year 2012 as a year of proud victory, a year when an era of prosperity is unfolding,” the New Year’s message said.

“The whole party, the entire army and all the people should possess a firm conviction that they will become human bulwarks and human shields in defending Kim Jong-un unto death.”

In South Korea, the term “Kremlinology” is already in wide use among foreign policy specialists.

They closely monitored the officials accompanying Kim Jong-un beside his father’s hearse during the funeral procession last week. The South Korean media called the funeral entourage “the Gang of Seven.”

The man who marched behind Kim Jong-un is Jang Song-thaek, 65, vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission, the currently leaderless body from which Kim Jong-il took his title, chairman.

Mr. Jang, 65, has survived two purges and is married to Kim Jong-il’s sister, Kim Kyong-hui. She is a member of the Communist Party’s powerful Politburo.

Mr. Jang - not known to have a military background - surprised South Korean pundits by appearing in a four-star general’s uniform at Kim Jong-il’s lying-in-state.

“After Kim Jong-il’s death, Jang was the only one who was promoted,” said Choi Jin-wook, chief North Korea researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification. “I am closely watching.”

Pallbearers included Defense Minister Kim Yong-chun and Army Chief of Staff Ri Yong-ho, who is thought to be Kim Jong-un’s military tutor.

Two fellow officers by the hearse were more sinister figures: Gens. U Dong-guk and Kim Jong-gak.

Gen. U, of the State Security Department, is behind the regime’s formidable spy agency.

Gen. Kim Jong-gak, of the Army’s General Political Bureau, pledged the allegiance of the armed forces to Kim Jong-un during Thursday’s memorial ceremony in what may have been a veiled threat. His bureau monitors officers’ loyalty.

The seven were rounded out by party secretaries Kim Ki-nam and Choe Tae-bok.

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