Secure despite rocket fiasco, N.Korea's Kim lauds military

PYONGYANG (Reuters) - North Korea's new leader delivered his first major public speech on Sunday as the impoverished state celebrated the centenary of its founder's birth, calling for a push to "final victory" despite a failed rocket launch two days earlier.

A jowly Kim Jong-un, clad in black and the third of his line to rule North Korea, read monotonously from a script in Pyongyang's central square after goose-stepping soldiers and sailors showcased the North's military power in a parade in spring sunshine.

Smiling and joking with generals on a podium after the speech, Kim watched as the country's missiles paraded past, a reminder that despite Friday's embarrassing failure to successfully launch a rocket, North Korea packs a punch.

In a move that indicated Kim would stick to the "military-first" policies that have put North Korea on the verge of nuclear-weapons capacity, he lauded respectively his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, and his father, Kim Jong-il, as the "founder and the builder of our revolutionary armed forces".

North Korea is believed to be readying a third nuclear test, based on intelligence satellite images and a past pattern of rocket launches followed by tests.

"Let us move forward to final victory," the 20-something leader urged tens of thousands of military and civilians as they applauded his more than 20-minute speech, the first time a North Korean leader has delivered a major public set-piece address.

Thousands of goose-stepping soldiers held up colored cards to spell out Kim Jong-un's name and the words "strong and prosperous".

The crowd waved artificial pink flowers, celebrating the two dead Kims who ruled the nation in an event that was hosted by one of the country's top generals, Ri Yong-ho.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency and YTN TV later cited military sources and analysts as saying the North unveiled at the parade a new long-range missile, presumed to be a ballistic missile with a range of to 6,000 km (3,700 miles).

The missile appeared to be longer and with a bigger diameter compared with others the North has revealed.

"In order to enhance the dignity of Songun (military-first) Chosun (Korea) and to accomplish the task of building a strong and prosperous socialist country, we have to make every effort to reinforce the people's armed forces," Kim said.

Given Kim Jong-il's years of silence, North Korea specialists said the speech was likely another attempt to remind people of happier days under Kim Il-sung, a revered and avuncular figure the new ruler closely resembles.

"It shows a new governing style for the Kim Jong-un era," said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Dongguk University's department of North Korea studies.

North Korea departed from its usual practice of not telling its population about embarrassing failures when state television on Friday broadcast news that a rocket had failed to put a satellite into orbit.

PART OF A PLAN

Critics say that the long-range rocket launch was part of a bid to develop a ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to hit the United States.

The state that Kim inherited in December after the death of his father boasts a 1.2 million-strong military but its population of 23 million, many malnourished, supports a puny economy worth just $40 billion annually in purchasing power parity terms, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Analysts say the wretched economy means Kim is tied to the policies of his late father who oversaw the development of the state's nuclear and missile ambitions.

The United States has vowed to prevent North Korea fulfilling those ambitions, although in reality there is little that can be done to one of the most sanctioned nations on earth that is backed diplomatically by China.

"We will continue to keep the pressure on them and they'll continue to isolate themselves until they take a different path," President Barack Obama said in an interview with Telemundo, a U.S. television network.

The small economy is matched by North Korea's limited diplomatic influence. It has few friends other than China, whose strategic interest is in keeping a buffer between it and South Korea which has U.S. military bases.

But even China sounded increasingly exasperated in the run-up to Friday's rocket launch as North Korea ignored its pleas for restraint, despite aid pumped in by Beijing, and its diplomatic protection at bodies like the United Nations.

Without real weight in the international arena, North Korea is forced to rely on bluster reinforced by periodic rocket launches, nuclear tests and attacks on South Korea, such as one in 2010 when it shelled an island, to get the world to pay attention, analysts say.

That is likely to mean it will stick to the same script. In 2009, North Korea followed a failed attempt to put a satellite into orbit with a nuclear test.

Intelligence satellite images showing a tunnel being dug at the site of two previous tests implying that North Korea either wants to remind the world of the possibility, to prompt a return to aid for disarmament talks, or is preparing a test.

"Internationally, now they have to do a nuclear test, preferably using uranium, just in order to show that they should be taken seriously," said Andre Lankov, a North Korea expert at South Korea's Kookmin University.

While North Korea confessed on Friday that its rocket had failed to deliver a satellite into orbit, it also continued to churn out reams of propaganda aimed at bolstering the legitimacy of Kim Jong-un and his claim to power based on his bloodline.

"Kim Jong-un is unlikely to be losing power over the launch, as the elite and the military need his legitimizing and mythical presence in order to pacify the North Korean population," said Virginie Grzelczyk, a North Korea expert at Nottingham Trent University in Britain.

(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park, Jeremy Laurence and Sung-won Shim; Writing by David Chance; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Robeert Birsel)

  • COMMENT: Xenophobia rears its ugly head in Singapore once more 17 hours ago
    COMMENT: Xenophobia rears its ugly head in Singapore once more

    Kirsten Han is a Singaporean blogger, journalist and filmmaker. She is also involved in the We Believe in Second Chances campaign for the abolishment of the death penalty. A social media junkie, she tweets at @kixes. The views expressed are … Continue reading →

  • Driving a $900,000 Porsche 918 Spyder to the future 19 hours ago
    Driving a $900,000 Porsche 918 Spyder to the future

    It’s more than just its inherent speed, or the whooshing noise that fills the cabin like a school choir jamming with James Hetfield. It’s what it represents in an industry full of skeptics. It’s a portal into the future – a time capsule left by some mad scientist born decades too soon. It’s something that shouldn’t exist. And yet it does.

  • 919 reasons to love: Flickr photo of the day 20 hours ago
    919 reasons to love: Flickr photo of the day

    We've brought you the drive video of the $900,000 Porsche 918 Spyder -- an 887-hp hybrid supercar with two electric motors working in harmony with a big 4.6-liter V-8. But how about this? Porsche's hybrid Le Mans racer -- the 919 Hybrid, sent to us by Kevin Leech. Get on board with electrification, folks. Because it's taking over the world.

  • COMMENT: Xenophobia rears its ugly head in Singapore once more
    COMMENT: Xenophobia rears its ugly head in Singapore once more

    Kirsten Han is a Singaporean blogger, journalist and filmmaker. She is also involved in the We Believe in Second Chances campaign for the abolishment of the death penalty. A social media junkie, she tweets at @kixes. The views expressed are … Continue reading →

  • Singaporeans slam NEA's $120 licence requirement for tissue sellers
    Singaporeans slam NEA's $120 licence requirement for tissue sellers

    Singaporeans on social media reacted angrily to news that tissue sellers at hawker centres and street corners are being required to pay for an annual licence.

  • Arrest warrant sought for S. Korea ferry captain
    Arrest warrant sought for S. Korea ferry captain

    South Korean prosecutors sought arrest warrants Friday for the captain and two crew members of the ferry that capsized two days before with hundreds of children on board, a coastguard official said. The captain and most of his 28 crew managed to escape the ferry, and have been criticised for abandoning the ship when so many were still trapped on board. Tracking data from the Maritime Ministry showed the ferry made a sharp turn just before sending its first distress signal on Wednesday morning. Prosecutors said Friday that preliminary investigations showed that captain Lee Joon-Seok had handed the helm to his third officer before the ferry capsized.