SEOUL - Hours after the failure of a highly trumpeted rocket launch marred his ascension to North Korea’s highest posts, Kim Jong Un promoted 70 military officers to the rank of general, the North’s main ruling party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, reported Saturday.
Kim ordered the promotions on Friday as one of his first actions after becoming chairman of the National Defense Commission, the country’s top governing agency, earlier in the day. The post was the last of the top military, party, and state titles he has inherited from his father, Kim Jong Il, who died in December.
The promotions came as the new leader was trying to consolidate his grip on power by shuffling personnel in the military and party elite. His carefully orchestrated coronation, which began with his father’s sudden death, hit an embarrassing hurdle on Friday, when a North Korean rocket carrying a satellite disintegrated in a midair explosion.
He had planned the launch to enhance his standing among his people on the day when he formally became chairman of the defense commission.
North Korea has often observed the anniversaries of its previous supreme leaders - Kim Jong Un’s father and his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, the North’s founding president - by promoting generals and party officials in personnel shake-ups intended to keep the elite beholden to the Kim family.
The centenary of Kim Il Sung’s birth, which falls on Sunday, offered Kim Jong Un such an opportunity. Following Kim into the defense commission were three new members. The moves came after similar changes in the makeup of the Workers’ Party leadership on Wednesday.
Some analysts say that the insecurity created by the rocket failure may push Kim to rely more heavily on the military. The Korean People’s Army, with about 1.1 million troops, has become the backbone of political power under Kim Jong Il’s “military first’’ policy, to which his son has committed himself.
Kim Jong Un “is not secure enough’’ to endorse a possible demand from moderates in his government for policy shifts after the rocket debacle, said Chang Yong Seok at Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification Studies. “He still relies on his dead father’s authority to justify his rule.’’
Rodong Sinmun said that Kim urged the commanding officers he was promoting to remain loyal “generation after generation.’’
On Saturday, Kim made an appearance in the capital, Pyongyang, at a stadium named after his grandfather before tens of thousands of party cadets, soldiers, workers, and other prominent figures.
North Korea holds such political gatherings, called national meetings, during state anniversaries.
In a speech, Kim Yong Nam, the leader of the North Korean Parliament, urged the North Korean people to believe that their future “is immensely rosy and bright as they have Kim Jong Un,’’ said the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency.