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PYONGYANG (Reuters) - North Korea's leader-in-waiting, the youngest son of ailing ruler Kim Jong-il, took center stage during a big military parade on Sunday, making his first national appearance in the secretive state.
Kim Jong-un stood near his father on the dais, clapping and saluting thousands of goose-stepping soldiers, and reviewing missiles, tanks and artillery rockets.
The young Kim's prominent role at the parade in Pyongyang's Kim Il-sung Square marked his military debut and showed his standing in one of the world's largest armies.
Until his appointment as a general last month -- along with his naming to a key political post -- little was known about the young Kim other than that he was educated in Switzerland.
"The future of our country is rosy and bright because Kim Jong-un was elected vice chairman of the military commission of the Workers' Party," said a government official, who asked not to be identified.
"We have a proverb in Korean that great teachers produce great students and great parents produce great children.
"Kim Jong-il is healthy enough to lead our country and to give spot guidance in every field including economic, agricultural, industrial, military and arts."
Kim Jong-il, 68, is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008 but he has shown no sign of losing his grip on power and was reappointed last month as secretary-general of the ruling Workers' Party.
He stood for over an hour during the parade and waved to the crowds, but limped noticeably and reached to the balcony for support.
State television broadcast the parade live, giving North Koreans their first real look at their next leader, known only to be in his mid- to late-20s.
A stable succession would be a relief to North Korea's economically powerful neighbors -- China, South Korea and Japan -- which worry that a regime collapse could result in massive refugee flows and domestic unrest.
The young Kim, the third son of the ailing leader, is poised to continue dynastic rule in the isolated state which also has ambitions to develop nuclear weapons.
Among the guests at the parade, the biggest in the North in years, were foreign diplomats and Communist Party officials from China -- the destitute North's only major ally on which it relies for food and fuel aid.
Foreign media were also invited to watch the parade which marked the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party and gave the world its first independent look at the protege.
Kim Jong-il, who now has a large, unexplained mark on the right side of his face, was greeted with thunderous applause and chants of "Long Live Kim Jong-il."
Thousands of soldiers marched to the tune of brass bands in the square, dominated by a giant portrait of the state's founder, Kim Il-sung.
A sea of red and pink flowers, waved by spectators, served as a backdrop to the show of power.
"This military parade shows that we are certain of success if the United States dares to attack us," said Kim Yoon-jong 21, a factory worker at the parade wearing traditional red, white and pink dress.
"We have a single mind, which is stronger than nuclear weapons," she said through a translator.
Later on Sunday, father and son returned to a brightly lit Kim Il-sung square for a fireworks display and a spectacular pageant of dancing and music.
The military parade was the climax of celebrations which started at the end of last month with the staging of a rare party conference to pick a new leadership.
After months of speculation, the untested Jong-un was made second-in-command to his father on the ruling party's powerful Central Military Commission, as well as being appointed a party Central Committee member.
Rising with him were the leader's sister Kyong-hui and her husband, creating a powerful triumvirate ready to take over the family dynasty that has ruled North Korea since its founding after World War Two.
Writing by Jeremy Laurence; Editing by David Fox