North Korea's military and political elite lined up in formation to swear fealty to its leader Kim Jong-un today as observers studied the position of top aides to see who survived the recent purge of Kim's uncle.
Kim's paternal aunt Kim Kyong-hui was not present at any of the events after her husband Jang Song-thaek, known to have been North Korea's second most powerful man, was suddenly purged and executed last week.
The aunt was reportedly in favor of her husband's ouster from the government. Jang has been charged of alleged drug abuse, womanizing, and treason by attempting to create his own powerbase within the regime.
"With Jang now out of the picture, North Korea is ready and set to go to start assembling people behind Kim Jong-un's sole and only leadership," said Park Chang-kwon, senior research fellow at Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul.
The occasion for the state photograph was commemoration ceremonies to mark the second anniversary of the death of Kim's father, Kim Jong-il.
Top officials sat with Kim on a wide stage at the Pyongyang Indoor Gymnasium with a huge portrait of Kim Jong-il behind them, heads bowed as the traditional North Korean funeral dirge played.
At several points during the speeches, all rose to applaud the "immortal and glorious exploits" of the late leader. Kim Jong-un, wearing a gray Mao suit, did not speak at the ceremony.
To the left sat the Politburo Chief and Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae representing the military, an obvious promotion from last year when he sat two seats away from Kim. Choe is believed to have fueled the purge of Jang Song-thaek and his supporters.
"Once more, our people's army is firmly determined to guarantee the victory of our great general's revolutionary cause," Choe said.
To the right sat Kim Yong-nam, North Korea's ceremonial head of state and the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly.
Contradicting past assertions of unity and strength, North Korea has acknowledged its leadership had been roiled by a challenge by Kim's mentor and uncle after the 2011 death of Kim's father.
The acknowledgement of dissension and dangerous instability in the government has raised fears of what's ahead as Kim tries to revive a moribund economy while maintaining and advancing development of the country's nuclear arsenal.
On Monday, tens of thousands of people crowded Mansu Hill in Pyongyang, where there are two giant bronze statues of national founder Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-il. A mass rally of the military was also held outside the mausoleum where the two Kims lie in state to swear allegiance to Kim Jong-un and the ruling Workers' Party.
North Korea watchers in South Korea remain wary of possible provocations by the North. Tensions exist here in Seoul for possible North Korean provocation.
"History shows that the North Korean regime tends to create a sense of insecurity in terms of national sovereignty at times of domestic turmoil," noted Koh You-hwan, professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul. "It's one of the most effective ways to control the masses and draw out loyalty to the nation."
"The execution of Jang could be the most important turning point to the North Korean regime since its foundation 68 years ago," South Korean Defense minister Kim Kwan-jin said at a military conference. "Possibility is high of a North Korean provocation sometime between late January and early March of next year."
Kim noted that the execution was to solidify Kim Jong-un's sole leadership but public dissatisfaction within North Korea will grow over the "politics of horror" in the long term. The regime then is likely to use the traditional strategy of cultivating a sense of insecurity by for example testing another nuclear bomb or test-launching missiles.
On Monday, North Korean military disseminated thousands of provocative leaflets towards Baekryong-do, a South Korean island situated close to the North-South border. The messages read "we are ready to strike at any time," "Baekryong-do will become a huge grave" and "Run away if you want to live."
South Korean Ministry of Defense is not taking this seriously though saying these leaflets are nothing new. The last one was in October 2012.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
- Politics & Government
- North Korea