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NKorea's Kim, heir apparent son at lavish parade

Clapping, waving and even cracking a smile, Kim Jong Il's son and heir apparent joined his father Sunday at a massive military parade in his most public appearance since being unveiled as North Korea's next leader.

Kim Jong Un, dressed in a dark blue civilian suit, sat next to his father on an observatory platform at Kim Il Sung Plaza as tanks carrying rocket-propelled grenades and long-range missiles rolled by as part of celebrations marking the 65th anniversary of the reclusive state's ruling Workers' Party.

It was a momentous public debut for Kim Jong Un less than two weeks after he was made a four-star general in the first in a series of appointments that set him firmly on the path to succession, which would carry the Kim dynasty over the communist country into a third generation.

Just days earlier, the world got a first glimpse of the son from photos published in the Rodong Sinmun newspaper. However, Sunday's appearance was carried live by state TV, beaming him into North Korean households and giving the people their first good look at the future leader.

Seeing the two Kims side by side above a huge portrait of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, and later waving to the crowd, drew raucous cheers and some tears from North Koreans attending the parade in the heart of Pyongyang.

"Kim Jong Il! Protect him to the death!" "Kim Jong Il, let's unite to support him!" they chanted as the 68-year-old leader walked the length of the platform, appearing to limp slightly and gripping onto the banister.

The parade was said to be the nation's largest ever, an impressive display of unity and military might for a country known for its elaborately staged performances that suggested bigger celebrations than just the Workers' Party anniversary.

Thousands of troops from every branch of North Korea's 1.2-million-strong military, as well as from naval officers' academies and military nursing schools, goose-stepped around the plaza decorated with banners and flags to the accompaniment of a military brass band and ordinary citizens waving plastic bouquets.

Tanks and trucks loaded with katyusha rocket launchers and grenades rolled past. They were dwarfed by the series of missiles that paraded by, each larger than the last and emblazoned with a Korean People's Army slogan: "Defeat the U.S. military. U.S. soldiers are the Korean People's Army's enemy."

"If the U.S. imperialists and their followers infringe on our sovereignty and dignity even slightly, we will blow up the stronghold of their aggression with a merciless and righteous retaliatory strike by mobilizing all physical means, including self-defensive nuclear deterrent force, and achieve the historic task of unification," Ri Yong Ho, chief of the General Staff of the North Korean army, said at the event.

However, the parade was probably less about threatening the U.S. than about introducing the heir to the North Korean people and building up his image as the next leader, according to Baek Seung-joo, a North Korea analyst at South Korea's Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.

"The parade is not aimed at showing off North Korea's military might," he said.

One thing was clear: The regime wanted the world to see the man dubbed the "Young General," and was willing to invite in international journalists to capture the moment after more than two years of virtually closing its borders to foreign media.

A select group of media outlets was allowed into the country to cover the festivities, and were given front-row seats at the two events where the Kims appeared: a performance of the Arirang mass games spectacle Saturday and the military parade.

Sunday's appearance was a heady debut for the mysterious young man who until two weeks ago was a virtual unknown outside North Korea's inner circle of military and political elite.

The question of who will take over leadership of the nuclear-armed nation of 24 million has been a pressing one since Kim Jong Il reportedly suffered a stroke in 2008.

The leader's Swiss-educated youngest son had emerged in recent months as the rumored front-runner to inherit the mantle of leadership, despite his youth and inexperience. There were reports that children were singing odes to "the Young Commander" and that his January birthday had been made a national holiday like those of his father and grandfather.

He won his first military post with the promotion to general late last month, and was appointed during the nation's biggest political convention in 30 years to the Workers' Party's central military commission, as well as the party's Central Committee — strong signs he was being groomed to eventually succeed his father.

Kim Jong Il himself became leader when Kim Il Sung died in 1994 in what was the communist world's first hereditary transfer of power.

Kim Il Sung was a former guerrilla who fought against Japan's colonization of Korea and built a cult of personality around himself and his son after founding the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in 1948.

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