SEOUL -- North Korea’s power elite gathered in a stadium in the capital city of Pyongyang Tuesday to mark the second anniversary of the death of their “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong Il.
The ceremony was presided over by Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s new leader and the late Kim’s son.Missing from the audience was Jang Song Thaek, the man accused of betraying the “warmest paternal love” of North Korea’s 30-year-old supreme leader. Just several days before the anniversary, the young Kim had his 67-year-old uncle executed on charges of plotting a coup.
The lineup at such high-level events is often analyzed by North Korea watchers to try and gauge the standing of key figures inside the reclusive regime. Tuesday’s ceremony caught some analysts by surprise for its inclusion of officials widely believed to have been close to Jang, including Kim Yang Gon, the secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
“It was a bit surprising to see officials who were closely associated with Jang present in the ceremony,” Yang Moo-jin, a researcher at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told CBS News. “It may mean that the purge has come to a temporary halt.”
Yang also noted that there was no significant shake-up among the North Korean cabinet on public display Tuesday, despite the litany of serious charges leveled against Jang on North Korea’s state-run news agency, which claimed he had rallied “a group of reactionaries” with the intent of overtaking the party and the state.
Jang’s wife, Kim Kyung Hui, the powerful younger sister of Kim Jong Il whose approval analysts say might have been necessary to execute a member of the so-called “royal family,” was also notably absent. Her name appeared on a roster for a separate state funeral just days earlier, however, and South Korean news reports said her frail health could explain her absence on Tuesday.
Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, a military hardliner with wide reign over the North Korean army, sat immediately to the left of the supreme leader Tuesday, showcasing his elevated status in Jang’s wake.
On Monday, at a massive rally of top military brass held outside a mausoleum that houses the embalmed bodies of North Korea’s former leaders, Choe led the military’s swearing of allegiance to Kim Jong Un, and urged the nation’s military to remain prepared, because “war comes without advertisements.”
Some analysts have speculated that with Kim’s very public power-play against his uncle, and rumors of internal divisions swirling, the North Korean military could be poised to stage another provocation -- which have previously come in the form of missile launches, nuclear tests or attacks on South Korean territory -- to demonstrate strength and shore up unity in the isolated nation.
South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin said in a video conference with top military officials on Tuesday that there was “a high probability North Korea may commit provocations from late January to early March next year.”
South Korea’s semi-official Yonhap news agency said Monday that North Korea had used the wind to carry propaganda leaflets to the northernmost South Korean island in the Yellow Sea, vowing to turn the island into a “massive graveyard,” and advising the residents that “we have only one recommendation: run.”
North Korea bombarded a South Korean island in the area with artillery shells in 2010, killing two South Korean marines.
File by CBS News' Samuel Songhoon Lee