- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 3, 2012

PYONGYANG, North Korea — Pumping their fists and chanting, tens of thousands of North Koreans packed the snowy main square of the capital Tuesday to pledge their loyalty to new leader Kim Jong-un as the campaign to consolidate his power deepened.

State television also aired footage of Mr. Kim’s recent visit to an elite tank unit with family and historical ties that showed him interacting with soldiers with ease and carrying out inspections much like his father Kim Jong-il and grandfather Kim Il-sung did before him - footage that aimed to show off his youth and health and put his confidence and authority on display.

The rally and the footage are the latest steps in a carefully choreographed campaign to build support for North Korea’s new leader that began the day news broke of Kim Jong-il’s death last month.

In swift succession, top officials from the military and ruling Workers’ Party have pledged their loyalty to the son, leaving no room for doubt about whether the young man would take power.

Kim Jong-il died Dec. 17 of a heart attack, leaving the nation of 24 million in the hands of his youngest son, who was a mystery even to the North Korean people until his emergence in September 2010 as his father’s favored successor.

Since Kim Jong-un, who is in his late 20s, was made a four-star general and a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party, the campaign to groom him has been fast.

Within a year, Kim Jong-un had become a fixture at his father’s side for inspection visits to military units and factories and at official events.

However, Kim Jong-il’s unexpected death catapulted the son to the limelight at a delicate time for North Korea. It was discussing with Washington much-needed food aid in exchange for nuclear disarmament. North Korea has tested two atomic devices since 2006.

Kim Jong-un did not have the benefit of 20 years of grooming like Kim Jong-il did when his father, North Korea founder Kim Il-sung, died in 1994 of a heart attack.

Instead, North Korea has sought to highlight Kim Jong-un’s heritage as heir to North Korea’s founding fathers, underlining his physical resemblance to his grandfather and characterizing him as an “identical” extension of his father.

In the documentary of his military visit Sunday, he was dressed in a long, dark overcoat similar to the coat his grandfather used to wear. He is shown in an exhibition room lined with black-and-white photos, including an image portraying a young Kim Il-sung.

The footage also served to show the confidence of Mr. Kim, who mingled easily with soldiers and appeared to be giving them pointers in the documentary shown just days after the ruling party officially proclaimed him supreme commander of the 1.2-million-strong Korean People’s Army.

In Pyongyang, meanwhile, Premier Choe Yong-rim and other old guard figures who are Mr. Kim’s inner circle led a rally in support of the leader and the country’s goals for the new year.

About 100,000 North Koreans attended the rally, officials said.

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