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After the purge: North Korean elite pledges loyalty to young leader Kim

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (center) attends a mass indoor memorial rally in Pyongyang in a still image taken from video released by North Korean state TV on Tuesday.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (center) attends a mass indoor memorial rally in Pyongyang in a still image taken from video released by North Korean state TV on Tuesday.KRT via Reuters

SEOUL - North Korea's political and military elite publicly pledged their loyalty to leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday, less than a week after he ordered the execution of a powerful family ally in a rare public purge.

The young leader was the center of attention at a large memorial in Pyongyang staged to mark the second anniversary of the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.

The public display of fealty came only days after the execution last week of Kim Jong Un's uncle, Jang Song Thaek, considered the second most powerful man in North Korea.

The ousting of Jang overlaps with a propaganda drive that has tied the younger Kim to his father's legacy in the weeks leading up to the anniversary.

Official television footage showed Kim Jong Un sitting center stage beneath a huge red mural of a flag emblazoned with a picture of his smiling father.

A noticeable absentee on the stage was his paternal aunt Kim Kyung Hui, Kim Jong Il's sister and Jang's wife. Together, she and Jang had been the "Pyongyang power couple" considered to be the real force behind the North Korean leadership.

"By eliminating the only other faction, the power in North Korea is now fully concentrated on Kim Jong Un," said Cheong Seong-jang at the Sejong institute, a Seoul-based think tank.

Kim, believed to be about 30, took over when his father died suddenly in December 2011.

In a relatively short period of time he has followed his father's program by ordering the North's third nuclear test and successfully launching a long-range rocket in the face of increasingly tight U.N. sanctions. 

He has now also removed his uncle Jang, the only leadership figure who may have posed any real threat to him.

His first two years in power have also been marked by construction, with a flagship project being the Masik Pass ski resort near Wonsan, on North Korea's east coast.

Propagandists have used the construction of the resort to coin the slogan "Masik Speed" which, similar to Kim Jong Un's rapid ascent to power, emphasizes the hurried completion of a goal or project.

While North Korea has purged many officials in its 65-year history, it is rare that anyone as powerful as Jang had been removed so publicly - suggesting a recognition of internal divisions and competing factions around Kim Jong Un.

Choe Ryong-hae (center), the director of the General Political Bureau of the North Korean People's Army (KPA), reads a statement during a rally at the plaza of the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Monday.KCNA via EPA

Kim Jong Un has removed most of Pyongyang's old guard during his comparatively short rule, replacing ageing generals and cadres with figures closer to his age.

He has changed his Korean People's Army (KPA) chief of staff four times. The job changed hands three times during his father's 17 years in power.

Choe Ryong Hae, a party apparatchik who has been around the Kim family for decades but had kept out of the limelight until three years ago, now appears to be the most influential adviser to Kim Jong Un.

On Monday, Choe addressed a gathering of KPA soldiers assembled outside the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, where Kim Jong Il's embalmed body lies in a glass coffin.

"The KPA is the eternal army of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un and it will always remain the army of Kim Jong Un defending him unto death and upholding his leadership only," an official KCNA news agency dispatch quoted Choe as saying.