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

by Simon Martin, Agence France Presse

Posted at Apr 15 2012 11:28 AM | Updated as of Apr 16 2012 02:57 PM

PYONGYANG - North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un delivered his first ever public speech on Sunday 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 looking 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)".

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.

Earlier at the ceremony, a female TV commentator intoned "Great Liberator, National Hero Kim Il-Sung", as the blue, red and white national flag and the red Supreme commander's flag were rolled into the plaza on open military jeeps.

As military bands struck up the national anthem, the flag was hoisted as thousands of spectators, including women in colorful traditional Hanbok gowns and men in suits and tie, watched solemnly under a bright sky.

Jong-Un, flanked by military and party leaders on a podium, was seen applauding as a master of ceremony shouted through loudspeakers "We celebrate the 100th birthday of the Great President Kim Il-Sung".

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!"

"Here on Kim Il-Sung Square, we will start another victorious 100 years founded by the Sun who shone in the 20th century so brightly!" said the TV commentator.

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.