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(5th LD) N. Korea's New Year message urges allegiance to new leader

All Headlines 15:57 January 01, 2012

(ATTN: UPDATES with comments by S. Korean official and expert in paras 14-15, 22-23; Minor edits in 1st para; TRIMS)

SEOUL, Jan. 1 (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Sunday urged its people to faithfully follow its new leader Kim Jong-un as it vowed to uphold the policies of his father, the late leader Kim Jong-il, to help build a thriving country.

The North also called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea and stressed the need to consolidate the national defense capabilities in every way.

"The entire army should place absolute trust in and follow Kim Jong-un and become human rifles and bombs to defend him unto death," the North's three major newspapers said in a joint New Year's editorial carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

"Let us defend with our very lives the Party Central Committee headed by the dear respected comrade Kim Jong-un."

The lengthy editorial published by the North's newspapers of the party, military and youth militia is closely scrutinized by officials and experts in South Korea, the United States and other regional powers as it offers clues on the North's policy goals in the new year.

The North's repeated appeal for allegiance comes as Kim, believed to be in his late 20s, appears to be consolidating his power he inherited upon the death of his father, the late leader Kim Jong-il, last month.

Kim has risen to the post of the supreme commander of the communist nation's massive armed forces, in the latest sign that the late Kim's youngest son has been solidifying power.

The editorial pressed its military to intensify political efforts to thoroughly establish Kim's "unified command system."

Winning support from the country's 1.1 million-strong military, which served as a key backbone of the late Kim's totalitarian rule, is seen as key for the young leader in consolidating his power.

The editorial praised the untested leader as "the brilliant commander" and "another peerless patriot" who is "precisely the great Kim Jong-il," in what could be the North's latest attempt to ensure the second father-to-son power succession goes smoothly.

The late leader assumed power in 1994 when his father, the North's founding leader Kim Il-sung, died of heart failure at the age of 82.

Despite Kim's demise, North Korea said it will uphold the policies of its late leader to help achieve a thriving socialist country under the leadership of his son, Kim Jong-un.

"It is the steadfast determination of our party that it will make no slightest vacillation and concession in implementing the instructions and policies he had laid out in his lifetime and that it will allow no change in this process," the editorial said.

The North's message underscored its commitment to stabilizing Kim's leadership by following his late father's instructions, said a South Korean official handling inter-Korean affairs.

"It shows that internal stability is the North's top priority," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity, citing policy.

North Korea, one of the poorest countries in the world, has vowed to usher in a prosperous nation by this year, the centennial of the birth of the late Kim's father, the country's founder Kim Il-sung.

Doubt still remains elsewhere over whether the North can achieve its stated goal due to chronic food and power shortages.

The editorial also called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, calling them the main obstacle to peace on the divided Korean Peninsula.

The United States fought on South Korea's side in the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. It keeps 28,500 troops in South Korea as a deterrent against the North.

Still, the editorial did not mention the country's nuclear weapons programs, which Pyongyang claims are a deterrent against hostile U.S. policy, though it repeated a basic tenet of the country's foreign policy.

North Korea will "strive to develop relations of friendship with countries that respect our country's sovereignty," the editorial said.

"The North's move is seen as its attempt not to create a stumbling block to dialogue between North Korea and the U.S.," said Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher of peace and unification studies at Seoul National University.

Kim's surprise death came ahead of a planned third round of meetings between U.S. and North Korean officials that had been widely expected to produce a deal on curbing Pyongyang's nuclear programs in return for food aid from Washington.

The editorial also suggested inter-Korean relations are unlikely to improve, citing how South Korea's "traitors" neglected Kim's demise and hindered South Koreans' offering of condolences.

"The ruling forces have become an object of people's stern trial," it said.

South Korea has said it has no hostility toward the North and expressed sympathy to the people of North Korea over Kim's death.

However, Seoul did not send an official mourning delegation to Pyongyang. It only approved a condolence trip by private delegations led by two high-profile women who have ties with North Korea.


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