N.Korea’s leader delivers 1st public speech

Agence France-Presse
Watch how North Koreans commemorate the 100th birthday of the country's founder, Kim Il-Sung, after an embarrassing rocket launch failure

PYONGYANG [UPDATED] – North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un delivered his first ever public speech on Sunday, April 15, at a major military parade in Pyongyang to mark 100 years since the birth of the country’s founder Kim Il-Sung.

The commemorations 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 and plunged into the sea.

The celebratory performances by civilians and troops nonetheless went ahead in a vast square named after the country’s founder, Kim Jong-Un’s grandfather.

Live TV footage showed thousands of goose-stepping soldiers carrying red flags march into the large Kim Il-Sung Square to the sound of drumbeats.

“I offer the purest respect and the greatest honour to great comrades Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il,” Jong-Un said in what was described by Pyongyang’s state TV as the first ever public speech by the young leader.

Jong-Un, clad in a dark Mao suit, fidgeted as he read from a prepared statement from a viewing stand overlooking tens of thousands of troops taking part in the massive parade.

He read quickly in a youthful voice, rarely looking up from the prepared text of the speech before a bank of microphones.

“I express my greetings to our compatriots in South Korea and across the world who dedicate themselves to reunification and the prosperity of the nations,” he told cheering crowds.

“Let’s move on toward our final victory!” he said, pointing his finger ahead to cheering troops who repeatedly chanted “Mansei! (long life)”.

“We have just heard for the first time his friendly and benevolent voice in his first-ever historic speech in front of the people,” a male TV commentator said of Kim’s 20-minute-long speech.

“We will follow him wherever his friendly voice is heard,” he said. “We will boast to the world the great might of Kim Il-Sung Korea under the respected comrade Kim Jong-Un’s leadership!”

“Envy us, the world, the rare blessing given to our people and the military!”

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

A wide array of weapons rolled in to the square, including tanks, multiple rocket launchers and various missiles on heavy trailers.

Five fighter jets, trailing plumes of colored smoke, flew over.

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.”

Crowds clapped and chanted Jong-Un’s name and “Mansei!,” wrapping up the parade that lasted more than two hours.

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

Jong-Un has since been cementing his grip on power with a series of official titles previously held by his father being conferred on him.

Kim Il-Sung, who founded the communist state in 1948 and plunged it into war with the South two years later, remains the subject of an all-pervasive personality cult which also embraces his late son and his grandson.

He remains “eternal president” from inside Kumsusan Memorial Palace, where his embalmed body lies encased in glass.

His portraits abound in the showpiece capital, where residence is restricted to those seen as most loyal to the regime.

For nearly two months, according to foreign residents, thousands of workers have been busy cleaning, repairing, painting and planting to give the city a facelift for Sunday’s celebrations.

Foreign journalists have been granted visas in unusually large numbers for the centenary.

Giant balloons, painted with the national flag and the communist party flags, were floating over the square, with a slogan hung from a balloon reading “Let’s unite in one mind!”

Ahead of the anniversary, rehearsals saw thousands of young boys and girls gathering every day until evening this month on Kim Il-Sung Square — which can accommodate 100,000 people — preparing their movements and dances. – Agence France-Presse

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