RSS Feeds

NKorea rocket launch shows young leader as gambler

Saturday - 12/15/2012, 3:16am  ET

Slogans honoring the leadership and celebrating the successful rocket launch of a satellite are displayed during a mass rally on Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. As the U.S. led international condemnation of what it calls a covert test of missile technology, top North Korean officials denied the allegations and maintained the country's right to develop its space program. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) -- A triumphant North Korea staged a mass rally of soldiers and civilians Friday to glorify the country's young ruler, who took a big gamble this week in sending a satellite into orbit in defiance of international warnings.

Wednesday's rocket launch came just eight months after a similar attempt ended in an embarrassing public failure, and just under a year after Kim Jong Un inherited power following his father's death.

The surprising success of the launch may have earned Kim global condemnation, but at home the gamble paid off, at least in the short term. To his people, it made the 20-something Kim appear powerful, capable and determined in the face of foreign adversaries.

Tens of thousands of North Koreans, packed into snowy Kim Il Sung Square, clenched their fists in a unified show of resolve as a military band tooted horns and pounded on drums.

Huge red banners positioned in the square called on North Koreans to defend Kim Jong Un with their lives. They also paid homage to Kim Jong Un's father, Kim Jong Il, and his grandfather, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung.

Pyongyang says the rocket put a crop and weather monitoring satellite into orbit. Much of the rest of the world sees it as a thinly disguised test of banned long-range missile technology. It could bring a fresh round of U.N. sanctions that would increase his country's international isolation. At the same time, the success of the launch could strengthen North Korea's military, the only entity that poses a potential threat to Kim's rule.

The launch's success, 14 years after North Korea's first attempt, shows more than a little of the gambling spirit in the third Kim to rule North Korea since it became a country in 1948.

"North Korean officials will long be touting Kim Jong Un as a gutsy leader" who commanded the rocket launch despite being new to the job and young, said Kim Byung-ro, a North Korea specialist at Seoul National University in South Korea.

The propaganda machinery churned into action early Friday, with state media detailing how Kim Jong Un issued the order to fire off the rocket just days after scientists fretted over technical issues, ignoring the chorus of warnings from Washington to Moscow against a move likely to invite more sanctions.

Top officials followed Kim in shrugging off international condemnation.

Workers' Party Secretary Kim Ki Nam told the crowd, bundled up against a winter chill in the heart of the capital, that "hostile forces" had dubbed the launch a missile test. He rejected the claim and called on North Koreans to stand their ground against the "cunning" critics.

North Korea called the satellite a gift to Kim Jong Il, who is said to have set the lofty goal of getting a satellite into space and then tapped his son to see it into fruition. The satellite, which North Korean scientists say is designed to send back data about crops and weather, was named Kwangmyongsong, or "Lode Star" -- the nickname legendarily given to the elder Kim at birth.

Kim Jong Il died on Dec. 17, 2011, so to North Koreans, the successful launch is a tribute. State TV have been replaying video of the launch to "Song of Gen. Kim Jong Il."

But it is the son who will bask in the glory, and face the international censure that may follow.

Even while he was being groomed to succeed his father, Kim Jong Un had been portrayed as championing science and technology as a way to lift North Korea out of decades of economic hardship.

"It makes me happy that our satellite is flying in space," Pyongyang citizen Jong Sun Hui said as Friday's ceremony came to a close and tens of thousands rushed into the streets, many linking arms as they went.

"The satellite launch demonstrated our strong power and the might of our science and technology once again," she told The Associated Press. "And it also clearly testifies that a thriving nation is in our near future."

Aside from winning him support from the people, the success of the launch helps his image as he works to consolidate power over a government crammed with elderly, old-school lieutenants of his father and grandfather, foreign analysts said.

Experts say that what is unclear, however, is whether Kim will continue to smoothly solidify power, steering clear of friction with the powerful military while dealing with the strong possibility of more crushing sanctions. The United Nations says North Korea already has a serious hunger problem.

   1 2  -  Next page  >>