SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korea's rubber-stamp parliament
appointed Kim Jong Il to a third term Thursday as leader of one of
the world's most reclusive nations, buoyed by a rocket launch
heralded in state media as "historic" but assailed elsewhere as
State media said lawmakers approved Kim as chairman of the
powerful National Defense Commission at the opening session of the
new parliament, an appointment that under the constitution makes
him the nation's top leader.
But there was no confirmation in a noon (0300 GMT) broadcast on
state TV that Kim himself was presiding over the session in what
would be his first major public appearance since reportedly
suffering a stroke last August.
Kim, 67, fell out of sight in mid-August. He failed to attend a
milestone 60th anniversary parade in September, a no-show that
sparked concerns about his health and fears of a succession crisis
in the nuclear-armed nation. Pyongyang denies he was ill.
Kim re-emerged in state media in early October and has steadily
made "on-the-spot field guidance" of farms, factories and
military units in an energetic tour widely seen as an attempt to
squelch rumors about his health.
Starting at 9 a.m. (0000 GMT) Thursday, state TV aired an
unusual daytime broadcast trumpeting Kim and his leadership,
showing undated footage of him meeting with soldiers and workers as
well as troops hard at work. State TV typically doesn't go on air
until the 5 p.m. news, except on special occasions.
The lengthy patriotic montage touted the country's best, with
the military featured prominently in nearly every scene. Soldiers
fired tanks, flew MiG fighter jets, went on patrol as the sun set
and - dressed in white T-shirts but still wearing their military
caps - helped smiling farmers in lush fields and singing fishermen
with nets packed with bountiful catches.
And there was Kim, in a parka and hat exhorting officers in a
sports stadium, reviewing troops, getting briefings from
white-uniformed naval officers and smiling benevolently as he
appeared to give advice. Some of the scenes were clearly file
footage, showing the burgeoning belly he sported before losing
significant weight in recent months.
The official Korean Central News Agency announced Kim's
appointment shortly before noon. Experts say the "re-election"
consists of legislators holding up their badges to approve the
"At the historic moment of electing comrade Kim Jong Il as
chairman of the National Defense Commission, all deputies and
participants, overwhelmed by endless emotion, joy and admiration,
sent up storm-like hurrays," a newscaster said minutes later on
"Having comrade Kim Jong Il at the highest post of our country
again is a great honor and happiness for our military and people
and a great happy event for all Korean people," she said.
Earlier in the week, state TV broadcast the first footage of Kim
since his August disappearance, showing him in short sleeves in
early August at a pig farm before jumping without explanation to
late November, when he was shown bundled up in a parka and thick
State TV also gave North Koreans their first glimpse Tuesday of
the rogue regime's controversial rocket launch, more than two days
after a liftoff decried by the U.S., Japan, South Korea and other
nations as a provocation that merits international censure.
North Korea claimed it successfully put a communications
satellite into orbit and that it was transmitting data and playing
patriotic odes to Kim and his father.
U.S. and South Korean military officials say nothing ever made
it into orbit and accuse Pyongyang of using the launch to test its
long-range missile technology. Washington, calling the launch of a
three-stage rocket a bold violation of U.N. Security Council
resolutions barring North Korea from ballistic missile-related
activity, is leading the push for council condemnation.
However, debate remains stalled, with North Korea's closest
ally, China, and Russia maintaining calls for restraint. North
Korea's deputy U.N. ambassador, Pak Tok Hun, has warned Pyongyang
will take "strong steps" if the Security Council takes any
Kim rules under a policy of "songun" - "military first" - as
head of the National Defense Commission, a position that under the
constitution makes him leader of the country, with his late father
remaining "eternal president." He also is the top official in the
powerful Workers' Party and supreme commander of the army.
Thursday's parliamentary gathering will be "an important
occasion in further strengthening and developing our republic as
undefeatable political and military power that no aggressor can
dare to provoke," North Korea's main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun,
said in a lengthy editorial carried Thursday by the official Korean
Central News Agency.
Outside observers will be watching Kim Jong Il and Thursday's
session closely for clues to his health and any signs he may be
laying the groundwork for a successor, as well as legislative
action on Sunday's rocket launch. North Korea says the satellite is
part of efforts to build a solid space program in time for the
100th birthday in 2012 of Kim's father, Kim Il Sung, who died in
Analysts said the rocket launch was designed to draw North
Koreans together as Kim embarks on his third term. Yang Moo-jin of
the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul said the session
will focus on solidifying his rule.
Kim has ruled the impoverished nation of 24 million with
absolute authority since his father's death. The two Kims have
thrived on an intense cult of personality, with their portraits
hanging in nearly every room. Many North Koreans wear badges with
the founder's image.
It's unclear whether the communist dynasty will extend to a
third generation. None of Kim's three sons was elected to
parliament in March, and they are not believed ready to assume the
Asked about his chances of succeeding his father, eldest son Kim
Jong Nam told Japan's TBS television that he wouldn't be in Macau
this week if he were in line.
He said he was worried about the controversy surrounding the
"I think more tension will be in North Korea and around this
country," he told TBS. "I'm quite worried about this."