North Korea meetings set to boost young leader's power

SEOUL Sat Mar 24, 2012 12:46pm EDT

1 of 2. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un visits the Korean People's Army Navy Unit 123 in an undisclosed location in this undated picture released by the North's KCNA in Pyongyang March 10, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/KCNA

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SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said on Saturday it will hold a special parliamentary session next month during which the reclusive country's new young leader, Kim Jong-un, is expected to be given a top title aimed at consolidating his grip on power.

The North has planned a series of events next month to mark the centenary of the birth of the state's founder, Kim Il-sung, including a rare ruling party conference and the controversial launch of a ballistic rocket it says will carry a satellite.

Experts say the young Kim, believed to be in his mid to late 20s, could be given two of the countries' senior most titles during the celebrations -- secretary general of the party and chairman of the defense commission.

The North's state media said on Saturday the Supreme People's Assembly, which has the formal mandate to appoint the chief of the National Defence Commission, the state's supreme military body, would meet on April 13.

The Workers' Party conference is also scheduled for the middle of next month.

The young Kim's appointment to the top posts would cement his position as paramount leader and ease lingering fears of a power struggle plunging the country into turmoil.

Kim took power after his father died in December and many analysts had feared a chaotic succession.

The young Kim only holds a military post in the ruling party. His father was chief commander of the 1.2 million-strong armed forces and general secretary of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea.

ROCKET LAUNCH WARNING

The United States has warned that the North's rocket launch next month will impact an area between Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines, an Australian newspaper reported on Saturday.

The Sydney Morning Herald said that U.S. envoy Kurt Campbell on Friday briefed Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr on the ballistic missile's southward trajectory from a North Korean launch pad.

"If the missile test proceeds as North Korea has indicated, our judgment is that it will impact in an area roughly between Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines," the paper quoted Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, as saying.

"We have never seen this trajectory before. We have weighed into each of these countries and asked them to make clear that such a test is provocative and this plan should be discontinued."

The North has said the rocket's trajectory will be southwards and that will not impact neighboring countries.

North Korea wants to use the celebrations around Kim Il-sung's birthday on April 15 to showcase its emergence as a "strong and prosperous nation", even as millions go hungry and it begs for international aid.

Its vow to fire a rocket carrying a working satellite has put in jeopardy a deal struck in February with the United States to get food aid in return for a moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear tests.

The North's Foreign Ministry warned that it was "intolerable double standards" for some countries to assert that the North was the only nation not allowed to launch satellites while for the same countries, satellite launches were commonplace.

"If there will be any sinister attempt to deprive the (North) of its independent and legitimate right and put the unreasonable double standards upon it, this will inevitably compel the (North) to take countermeasures," the ministry said in a statement late on Friday.

PHILIPPINES ON ALERT

An Australian foreign ministry official told Reuters Canberra has expressed concern about the flight path which "suggest a southerly trajectory for the missile, with booster rockets landing in the Yellow Sea and off the coast of the Philippines".

Philippine Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said this week the North's launch was "unacceptable", and that it was relying on U.S. help to track it. Indonesia has also condemned it.

North Korea has conducted two similar launches. The last one, in 2009, provoked outrage in Tokyo because the rocket flew over Japan. As it did three years ago, Japan says it is prepared to shoot the rocket down if it threatens its territory.

The rocket launch, which the United States and other countries say is the same as a ballistic missile test, is banned under U.N. resolutions.

Even China, North Korea's main ally, has expressed its worry over the launch, scheduled for between April 12 and April 16, and has urged the North to "stay calm and exercise restraint and avoid escalation".

The secretive North has twice tested a nuclear device, but experts doubt whether it yet has the ability to miniaturize an atomic bomb to fit inside a warhead.

The North's rocket launch is expected to be one of main issues up for discussion when about 50 world leaders gather in Seoul on Monday for Nuclear Security Summit. Among those attending are China's president, Hu Jintao, and U.S. President Barack Obama.

(Additonal reporting by Manila, Canberra and Jakarta bureaus; Editing by Jack Kim and Robert Birsel)

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