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N. Korea's Kim gives first speech at centenary parade

North Korean new leader Kim Jong-Un promises to push for 'final victory' despite a failed rocket launch during his first public speech marking 100 years since the birth of Kim II-Sung, the ex-national leader and his grandfather

AFP, Sunday 15 Apr 2012
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un attends an opening ceremony of the Exhibition of Arms and Equipment of the Korean People's Army held to celebrate the centenary of the birth of late Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea on Saturday April 14, 2012. (Photo: AP)
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North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-Un delivered his first public speech Sunday and vowed to push for "final victory" for his impoverished state despite a failed rocket launch two days ago.

"We must strengthen our military in every possible way...and accomplish the goal of building a powerful and prosperous socialist state," he told troops and civilians packing a square named after his grandfather Kim Il-Sung, the country's founder.

"The time when the enemy threatens and blackmails us with atomic bombs has gone for good," Jong-Un said in reference to the nuclear weapons programme touted as one of the greatest achievements of the family dynasty.

The parade marking 100 years since the birth of Kim Il-Sung came just two days after a satellite launch timed to mark the centenary fizzled out embarrassingly, when the rocket apparently exploded within minutes of blastoff.

But Jong-Un, aged in his late 20s and in power for less than four months, appeared confident as he oversaw a parade featuring rockets, artillery, tanks and thousands of goose-stepping troops.

"Let's move on towards our final victory!" he said, pointing at cheering troops who repeatedly chanted "Mansei!" (Hurray).

Jong-Un, clad in his customary dark Mao suit, said peace is valuable to the North as it tried to build a powerful country and improve living standards.

"However, dignity of the nation and sovereignty of the country is more valuable for us," he added.

The North went ahead with the satellite launch despite strong opposition from the United States and its allies, who saw it as a disguised ballistic missile test.

Washington has scrapped plans to deliver 240,000 tonnes of food aid to the North, which suffers persistent severe food shortages while it spends massively on its military.

The regime for years has vowed to strive to raise living standards.

Jong-Un said the ruling party was determined that North Koreans, "the world's best and who have endured so many challenges and faithfully served the party, will no longer have to tighten their belts and will fully enjoy socialist prosperity."

After the speech, thousands of troops from a variety of units -- both from the regular 1.2 million-strong military and universities and secondary schools -- staged a march past.

Diesel fumes filled the square as vehicles displaying an array of weaponry drove past -- trucks with multiple rocket launchers, tanks, armoured personnel carriers, artillery and an array of short- and medium-range missiles.

Five aircraft staged a fly-past.

A sea of people using red, yellow and white paper flowers formed giant displays of the names of the Kims, the national and communist party flags and slogans such as "Glory" and "Undefeatable army".

Some spectators at the parade said one missile appeared new.

Ham Hyeong-Pil, of South Korea's Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, said it was apparently a Musudan mid-range missile first unveiled in October 2010, but now repainted in military camouflage colours.

Kim Il-Sung died in 1994 after bequeathing power to his son Kim Jong-Il. The current leader was thrust into the top post unexpectedly early when his own father Jong-Il died of a heart attack last December.

He has since been cementing his grip on power, taking up top-level posts in the ruling party and on the powerful National Defence Commission last week.

The new leader has a more outgoing image than his father. Kim Jong-Il is believed to have spoken just once at a major public occasion during his 17 years in power -- and that was a single sentence.

Jong-Un, smiling and chatting with military leaders, waved and saluted throughout the parade from a balcony decorated with giant portraits of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il.

"Kim Jong-Un, unlike his father, appears to seek a new leadership style that emphasises communication and interaction with the public, just like his grandfather did in the past," said Cheong Seong-Chang of South Korea's Sejong Institute.

But the dynasty is still the subject of an all-pervasive personality cult. Portraits of Kim Il-Sung abound in the showpiece capital, where residence is restricted to those seen as most loyal to the regime.

In South Korea, some 40 North Korean defectors and activists launched balloons carrying about 200,000 leaflets into the North near the heavily fortified border to condemn the power succession and the rocket launch.

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