Image: Thousands of North Koreas pay their respects to Kim Jong Il
KCNA via AFP - Getty Images
Thousands of North Koreas pay their respects to Kim Jong Il during a memorial at Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Square on Thursday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 12/29/2011 3:07:25 PM ET 2011-12-29T20:07:25

North Korea declared Kim Jong Il's son and successor "supreme leader" of the ruling party, military and the people during a memorial Thursday for his father in the government's first public endorsement of his leadership.

Kim Jong Un, head bowed and somber in a dark overcoat, stood on a balcony at the Grand People's Study House overlooking Kim Il Sung Square watching the memorial, which also served as a show of support for North Korea's next leader. He was flanked by top party and military officials, including Kim Jong Il's younger sister, Kim Kyong Hui, and her husband Jang Song Thaek, who are expected to serve as mentors of their young nephew.

Solemn and grimacing, the younger Kim stood motionless throughout the ceremony.

Video: Farewell for North Korea’s ‘dear leader’ (on this page)

Given Kim Jong Un's inexperience and age — he is in his late 20s — there are questions outside North Korea about whether he is equipped to lead a nation engaged in long-stalled negotiations over its nuclear program and grappling with decades of economic hardship and chronic food shortages.

But support among North Korea's power brokers was unequivocal at the memorial service, attended by hundreds of thousands of people filling Kim Il Sung Square and other plazas in central Pyongyang.

Video: North Korea and hot zones to watch in 2012 (on this page)

"The fact that he completely resolved the succession matter is Great Comrade Kim Jong Il's most noble achievement," Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, told the massive audience at the square.

"Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un is our party, military and country's supreme leader who inherits great comrade Kim Jong Il's ideology, leadership, character, virtues, grit and courage," said Kim, considered North Korea's ceremonial head of state. "Kim Jong Il laid a red silk carpet, and Kim Jong Un only needs to walk on it."

Thursday's memorial "was an event to publicly reconfirm and solidify" Kim Jong Un's status, said Jeung Young-tae, an analyst with the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, South Korea.

"Kim Jong Un is already the leader of the party, military and country," he said.

'World-class military power'
Life in the North Korean capital came to a standstill as a mourners blanketed the plaza from the Grand People's Study to the Taedong River for the second day of funeral ceremonies for the late leader.

Reuters reported that temperatures that stood at about 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 degrees Celsius) during the event. State TV showed a delegation of foreigners attending the memorial.

During the eulogy, Kim Yong Nam also said that Kim Jong Il "laid the foundation for our people to live on as autonomous people of a world-class military power and a proud nuclear state."

The North has conducted two nuclear tests.

The eulogies were short on boasts about economic achievements from a strongman who used his "military first" policy to divert resources to build a conventional and weapons of mass destruction program.

The North's economic output is now smaller than in the 1990s under the rule of his father Kim Il Sung, who founded the state in 1948, and it has been squeezed harder under international sanctions for its missile and nuclear tests.

Kim Jong Il, who led his 24 million people with absolute power for 17 years, died of a heart attack Dec. 17 aged 69 , according to state media. He inherited power from his father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, who died of a heart attack in 1994, in what was the communist world's first hereditary succession.

Attention turned to Kim Jong Un after he was revealed last year as his father's choice among three known sons to carry the Kim dynasty into a third generation.

Kim Jong Il's two other sons, Kim Jong Nam and Kim Jong Chol, were not spotted at either the funeral or memorial.

Image: Frame grab shows Kim Jong Un and North Korean Chief of General Staff of the Korea People's Army Ri Yong Ho
KRT via Reuters TV
Kim Jong Un, second from left. looks on, next to Chief of General Staff of the Korea People's Army Ri Yong Ho, left, during the memorial for late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang on Thursday.

The process to groom Kim Jong Un was rushed compared to the 20 years Kim Jong Il had to prepare to take over from his father, and relied heavily on the Kim family bloodline and legacy as guerrilla fighters and the nation's founders.

Interactive: Meet North Korea’s first family (on this page)

Kim Il Sung is North Korea's first and only president; he retains the title "Eternal President" even after his death.

Kim Jong Il held three main positions: chairman of the National Defense Commission, general secretary of the Workers' Party and supreme commander of the Korean People's Army.

According to the constitution, his position as chairman of the National Defense Commission makes him "supreme leader" of North Korea.

However, it may take Kim Jong Un some months to assume the full panoply of official titles held by his father.

"The real question is whether the new Kim has the cruelty and cunning, qualities that his father and grandfather Kim Il Sung possessed in plenty, to preserve in the long run the essential engine of the destitute dynasty he inherits," wrote Sung-Yoon Lee of Tufts University, a leading North Korea watcher.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Kim Jong Un takes power in North Korea

Interactive: North Korea's power shift

Photos: World reacts

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  1. Pyongyang

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Media access to Kim Jong Il's funeral is restricted. North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) has provided many of the images.

    Korean People's Army officers bowing their heads at the memorial service for the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il at the Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang, Dec. 29, ending 13 days of official mourning and formally declaring his young son, Kim Jong Un as the new supreme leader. (KCNA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Pyongyang

    North Korean workers pray silently during the memorial for Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, Dec. 29. (KCNA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Pyongyang

    Railroad workers observe a moment of silence during a memorial service for Kim Jong Il, in Pyongyang, Dec. 29. (Kyodo News via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Pyongyang

    A sea of people stand in a Pyongyang plaza on Thursday, Dec. 29 to attend the memorial service for North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. (KCNA via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Pyongyang

    North Korea's new leader Kim Jong Un looks on during the memorial for his father in Pyongyang on Dec. 29. (KRT via Reuters TV) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Pyongyang

    North Koreans pray silently during a memorial for Kim Jong Il on Dec. 29. Three minutes of silence were observed nationwide, after which sirens and ship and train horns were heard. (KCNA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Tokyo, Japan

    Mourners gather in front of a portrait of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during a memorial service organized by the General Association of Korean residents in Japan, in Tokyo on Dec. 29. (Kyodo News via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Pyongyang

    The funeral procession for North Korea's late leader Kim Jong-Il arrives at the square of the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang. Tens of thousands of weeping North Koreans bade farewell Dec. 28 to longtime leader Kim Jong-Il. (KCNA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Pyongyang

    North Koreans react during their late leader Kim Jong Il's funeral procession in Pyongyang in this image taken from video Dec. 28. North Korea's military staged a huge funeral procession on Wednesday in the snowy streets of the capital Pyongyang for its deceased "dear leader," Kim Jong Il. (KRT via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Pyongyang

    Military personnel bow as a car passes with a portrait of Kim Jong Il during his funeral at Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang. North Korean state television began broadcasting the funeral of late leader Dec.28, with footage of tens of thousands of troops bowing their heads in the snow outside a memorial palace. (KCNA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Pyongyang

    Mourners react as a car carrying Kim Jong Il's coffin passes during his funeral procession in Pyongyang Dec. 28. (Kyodo News via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Pyongyang

    Kim Jong Un salutes besides the convoy carrying the body of his father Kim Jong Il at Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang Dec. 28. (KCNA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Pyongyang

    North Koreans grieve during the funeral procession for Kim Jong Il as his casket arrives at the square of the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang. (KCNA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Pyongyang

    Mourners gather around a hearse carrying the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's coffin as it passes through the streets of the North Korean capital Pyongyang during his state funeral Dec.28. Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans lined the route of Kim Jong Il's funeral cortege in snowfall as the leader's body was driven through the streets of Pyongyang. (KCNVA via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Pyongyang

    A uniformed man tries to control crowds attending the funeral procession for Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang, Dec. 28. (KRT via Reuters TV) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Pyongyang

    Kim Jong Un, front right, and Jang Song-Thaek, front left, walk besides the convoy carrying the body Kim Jong Il at Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang. (KCNA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Pyongyang

    Members of North Korea's military react during the funeral procession for their former leader in Pyongyang. (Kyodo News via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Seoul, South Korea

    A South Korean war veteran burns a North Korean flag and pictures of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and his son Kim Jong Un during a rally against North Korea in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 28, the same day of the funeral for the late North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il. (Ahn Young-joon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Seoul, South Korea

    South Korean activists try to enter the office of pro-unification civic group after one of its members entered North Korea to send her condolences for late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il at a rally on Dec. 28, in Seoul, South Korea. (Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Pyongyang

    North Korea's new leader Kim Jong Un, cries as his father, Kim Jong Il, lies in state during the run-up to his funeral in Pyongyang on Dec. 27. (Reuters TV) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Pyongyang

    Women mourn the late Kim Jong Il at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, where his body lies in state, in Pyongyang Dec. 27. (KCNA via KNS - AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Pyongyang

    Lee Hee-ho, widow of former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung, shakes hands with new North Korean leader Kim Jong Un after she paid her respects to the late Kim Jong Il Dec. 26. Lee Hee-ho, whose husband drew up a now-abandoned policy of engagement with the North, led a delegation across the border and laid wreaths at the mausoleum where Kim Jong Il's body is on display. (KCNA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Pyongyang

    Workers of the Kim Jong Tae electric locomotive plant gathering for what was described as a declaration of their resolve and to offer condolences to Kim Jong Il Dec. 26. (KCNA via KNS - AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Pyongyang

    Civilians use their jackets to shelter flowers offered to pay tribute to their late leader Kim Jong Il at a square in front of Pyongyang Gymnasium Dec. 23. (KCNA via KNS - AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Pyongyang

    A uniformed woman reacts as she pays her respects to Kim Jong Ill in Pyongyang Dec. 21. (KCNA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Pyongyang

    North Koreans gather for a condolence call for deceased leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang Dec. 21. (Kyodo News via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Pyongyang

    North Korean traffic officers pay their respects at a portrait of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, Dec. 21. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Paju, South Korea

    North Korean defectors who live in South Korea prepare to fly balloons carrying anti-North Korea leaflets at the Imjinkak pavilion, near the demilitarized zone which separates the two Koreas in Paju, Dec. 21. The defector groups released 200,000 anti-North Korea leaflets and celebrated the death of Kim Jong Il with protests against condolences to the dictator's death. The slogans on the balloons read "Liberate North Korean compatriot," "Terminated three generation hereditary power transfer," "Go to hell, Kim Jong-il," "No condolence call to devil" and "North Koreans, uprising". (Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Pyongyang

    Foreigners living and working in Pyongyang, including the United Nations' resident coordinator in North Korea, Jerome Sauvage, right front, pay their respects at a portrait of late North Korean leader at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, Dec. 21. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Pyongyang

    North Koreans make a call of condolence at the Kim Il Sung Plaza in Pyongyang in this picture released by the North's official KCNA news agency, Dec. 21. (KCNA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Pyongyang

    North Koreans visit mourning places throughout the country to express condolences over the death of leader Kim Jong Il, in Pyongyang, Dec. 20. (Kcna / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Pyongyang

    North Koreans pass a row of flags flying at half mast on the morning after the day that the death of their leader Kim Jong Il was announced, in Pyongyang, North Korea, Tuesday Dec. 20, 2011. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Pyongyang

    New North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un pays respects to his father and former leader Kim Jong Il, who is lying in state at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang on Tuesday, Dec. 20. (Reuters TV) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Pyongyang

    North Koreans visit mourning places throughout the country to express deep condolences over the death of leader Kim Jong Il, in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Dec. 20. (EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Pyongyang, North Korea

    Hundreds of North Koreans gather to mourn the death of their leader, Kim Jong Il, in front of a giant statue of his father, Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang, North Korea on Monday, Dec. 19. North Korea's news agency reported that he had died at 8:30 a.m. Saturday after having a heart attack on a train, adding that he had been treated for cardiac and cerebrovascular diseases for a long time. He was 69 years old. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Pyongyang, North Korea

    North Korean women cry after learning death of their leader Kim Jong Il on Dec. 19 in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Kyodo News via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Pyongyang, North Korea

    Undated footage released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Dec. 19 shows North Koreans citizens mourning after the death of their leader in Pyongyang. (Korean Central News Agency via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Pyongyang, North Korea

    North Koreans cry after learning death of their leader Kim Jong Il, Dec. 19, in Pyongyang. (Kyodo News via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Paju, South Korea

    South Korean soldiers patrol near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, north of Seoul Dec. 19. The death of North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il sparked immediate concern over who is in control of the reclusive state and its nuclear program. (Lim Byong-sik / Yonhap via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Seoul, South Korea

    South Koreans read extras reporting the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il at the train station in Seoul, South Korea, Dec. 19. (Ahn Young-joon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Beijing, China

    A waitress cries after hearing news of the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, at a North Korean restaurant in Beijing, Dec. 19. China said that it was "distressed" to learn of the death of Kim Jong Il, but remained confident that the North would remain united and that the two neighbors would keep up their cooperation. (China Daily via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Beijing, China

    Staff hoist a national flag at half-mast on the rooftop of North Korean Embassy in Beijing on Dec. 19, following the announced death of Kim Jong Il. (Kyodo News via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
    KCNA via AFP - Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (42) Funeral and reaction to the death of Kim Jong Il - World reacts
  2. ARCHIVES : KIM IL SUNG AND KIM JONG IL
    Noboru Hashimoto / Corbis Sygma
    Slideshow (36) Funeral and reaction to the death of Kim Jong Il - Kim Jong Il through the years
  3. ARCHIVES : KIM IL SUNG AND KIM JONG IL
    Noboru Hashimoto / Corbis Sygma
    Slideshow (36) The life of Kim Jong ll - Kim Jong Il through the years
  4. Image:
    KCNA via AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (42) The life of Kim Jong ll - World reacts
  5. Image:
    David Guttenfelder / AP
    Slideshow (53) Journey into North Korea

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