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(2nd LD) Kim Jong-un assumes supreme commandership of N. Korean military

All Headlines 11:12 December 31, 2011

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with more details, background)

SEOUL, Dec. 31 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong-un, has risen to the supreme commander of the communist nation's massive armed forces, state media reported Saturday, a strong indication that the young son of late leader Kim Jong-il is solidifying power.

The Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party met Friday and "proclaimed that the dear respected Kim Jong-un ... assumed the supreme commandership of the Korean People's Army according to the behest of leader Kim Jong-il on Oct. 8," Pyongyang's Korean Central News Agency said.

"All the participants stood up to welcome him with enthusiastic applause," KCNA said.

The commandership is one of the titles that the late leader held before he died due to a heart attack on Dec. 17, along with the general secretary of the ruling Workers' Party and the chairman of the National Defense Commission.

Kim Jong-un, believed to be in his late 20s, is expected to assume the other posts as well.

North Korea's 1.19 million-strong military is one of the world's largest.

Friday's politburo meeting also "underlined the need to hold Kim Jong-un in high esteem as the only center of unity, cohesion and leadership of the WPK (Workers' Party of Korea), devotedly defend him politically and ideologically, and give fuller play to the might of the political and ideological power," KCNA said.

The late leader, who took over North Korea after the 1994 death of his father and national founder Kim Il-sung, had been grooming the third son as a successor, promoting him to the rank of a four-star general and naming him vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party.

On Saturday, the North said it will issue gold and silver coins to mark the 20th anniversary of late leader's 1991 ascension to the supreme commandership, saying the move is to keep the late leader's "immortal achievements shining through generations."

The Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly made the decision, praising the late leader for making North Korea "an invincible military power" with nuclear weapons that no enemy can dare touch under his "songun" or military-first leadership.

The North also stepped up threats against the South.

In "joint calls" of the Central Committee and the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party, the North said it will turn South Korea's presidential office "Cheong Wa Dae and the stronghold of aggression into a sea of fire and accomplish the historic cause of national reunification without fail if the enemies dare mount an attack," according to KCNA.

The threat came a day after the North's National Defense Commission said it "will have no dealings with the (South Korean President) Lee Myung-bak group of traitors forever," a statement that appears to suggest that Pyongyang's policy toward the South will remain unchanged.

The North's commission issued the statement, accusing the South of banning its people from visiting Pyongyang to offer condolences and of seeking to drive a wedge between ordinary North Koreans and the North's leadership over Kim's death.

Relations between the two Koreas frayed after Lee took office in early 2008 with pledges to halt aid and link future assistance to progress in efforts to end North Korea's nuclear programs. The ties were further stretched after the North launched two deadly attacks on the South last year.

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