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North Korea calls for unity as Kim Jong Un marks 10th anniversary of father’s death

Kim Jong Il, the second of the Kim family dynasty, ruled North Korea for 17 years until his death on Dec. 17, 2011.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un marked the 10th anniversary of the death of his father and predecessor on Friday, attending a ceremony with top officials at a palace where his body lies in state while people across the country held commemorations.

Kim Jong Il, the second of the Kim family dynasty, ruled North Korea for 17 years until his death on Dec. 17, 2011. State media at the time did not report his death until two days later.

As his son reached 10 years in power struggling to navigate the country out of deepening pandemic-related hardships, the country also called for greater public unity toward its current leader.

Kim Jong Un, 37, has secured the same absolute power enjoyed by his predecessor and by Kim Il Sung, the current leader’s grandfather and state founder. Despite massive economic shocks caused by strict anti-virus measures and long-dormant nuclear diplomacy with the United States, North Korea shows no signs of political instability and few outside experts question Kim’s grip on power.

A car carries the casket containing Kim Jong-Il during the funeral procession in Pyongyang on Dec. 28, 2011. AFP / via Getty Images file

On Friday, state television broadcasts showed people observing several moments of silence and bowing before portraits and statues of the former leader.

Kim Jong Un was shown with hundreds of officials at a ceremony outside the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in the capital, Pyongyang, where the bodies of his father and his grandfather lie in state under glass.

Clad in a black leather coat, Kim stood somberly beneath a large red banner emblazoned with an image of his father, but was not shown speaking.

At midday Friday a siren blared for three minutes. Cars, trains and ships blew their horns, national flags were lowered to half-staff and masses of people climbed Pyongyang’s Mansu Hill to lay flowers and bow before giant statues of the past leaders.

People bow during a three minutes silence to mark the ten year anniversary of the death of Kim Jong Il, in Pyongyang on Dec.17, 2021.Kim Won Jin / AFP - Getty Images

During an outdoor ceremony, senior North Korean official Choe Ryong Hae called Kim Jong Il “the parent of our people” who built up the potentia for the North’s military and economic might. Under Kim Jong Un, Choe said North Korea’s “strategic status” has been boosted and urged the public to “faithfully uphold” his leadership.

Newspapers — all tightly controlled by the North Korean government — published articles venerating Kim Jong Il and calling for greater unity behind Kim Jong Un.

“We should make our every effort to bolster our single-minded unity ... by standing united behind respected comrade Kim Jong Un,” the North’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in an editorial.

Under Kim Jong Il, North Korea suffered widespread famine in the 1990s, and on coming to power, his son vowed citizens would never have to tighten their belts again.

Ten years into his rule, however, Kim Jong Un is facing widespread economic problems caused by international sanctions imposed over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs, natural disasters, and self-imposed anti-pandemic border lockdowns that have cut trade to a trickle.

“North Korea marked the 10-year memorial of Kim Jong Il with public ceremonies and state propaganda. More significant will be Kim Jong Un’s attempt, after a decade in power, to map out a credible path for post-pandemic diplomacy and economic recovery,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.