North Korea marks late leader Kim Jong-il's birthday

A statue of Kim Jong-il was unveiled as part of the birthday celebrations

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North Korea marked the 70th birthday of late leader Kim Jong-il, also dubbed the "day of the shining star", with a mass military parade.

A ceremony was held in the square outside Kumsusan Memorial Palace in the capital Pyongyang on Thursday, footage on state television showed.

The army pledged loyalty to Mr Kim's son and successor, Kim Jong-un.

Activities venerating the late leader, who died of a heart attack in December 2011, were stepped up in recent weeks.

The palace, where his body lies in state, was also renamed the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in honour of both Mr Kim and his father, the country's founding leader, Kim Il-sung.

Despite the frigid weather, people gathered early on Thursday morning at the main Kim Il-sung Plaza. They left red "kimjongilia" begonias and other flowers at his portrait.

TV grab taken off North Korea's state television shows North Korea's military chief Lee Yong-Ho aboard a jeep leading a military parade at Pyongyang"s Kumsusan Memorial Palace on 16 February, 2012 to mark the birthday of late leader Kim Jong-Il The celebrations are also an opportunity to bolster Kim Jong-un's leadership

North Korea said on Wednesday it has awarded Kim Jong-il the highest title of Generalissimo, the same rank as that held by his father, the country's founding leader.

A 6-metre bronze statue of him was unveiled on Tuesday depicting him riding a horse next to his late father, Kim Il-sung, also on horseback.

A series of commemorative items and tributes have been released since his death. These include a giant slogan carved into a mountainside, postage stamps, medals and gold and silver coins bearing his image.

Emotional tributes were delivered by an announcer on state television on Thursday, which also aired footage portraying the late leader as caring for the people, said an AFP report.

"There are no other leaders in the world like the General," an elderly woman was shown saying on state television.

'Kim dynasty'

New songs praising Mr Kim have been composed for the occasion. Concerts and events were held for the celebrations, including a skating show and synchronised swimming programme on Wednesday.

However the festivities were also widely seen as an opportunity to celebrate the leadership of his son.

Both the skating and synchronised swimming shows opened with mourning the late Mr Kim, but closed with a new song for his son, said an Associated Press report from Pyongyang.

South Korean activists release balloons and banners near the inter Korea border, in Paju on 16 February, 2012 About 30 defectors launched balloons carrying leaflets across the border from S Korea

On Wednesday, at a gathering of hundreds of senior party officials to honour the late Mr Kim, Kim Jong-un received a standing ovation.

It was impossible to tell how much power he really wields in private discussions with his father's senior comrades, says the BBC's correspondent in Seoul, Lucy Williamson.

At the meeting, nominal head of state Kim Yong-nam urged the nation to protect Kim Jong-un "with their lives".

Thursday's celebrations are a chance to reiterate the unique authority of the Kim family name in North Korea's dynastic history, our correspondent adds, and the thin but irreplaceable credentials of its new young leader.

In South Korea, about 30 defectors launched 140,000 leaflets denouncing the succession from 10 large balloons near the border, said an AFP report. The balloons carried slogans proclaiming a ''day of national disgrace'' and satirical cartoons of the Kim clan.

Next week, North Korean officials will meet representatives from the United States in Beijing to discuss Pyongyang's nuclear programme.

The talks, which will be closely watched, are aimed at restarting negotiations over disarmament. They will be the first such talks since the Mr Kim's death and follow months of deadlock over the issue.

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