Reporting from Pyongyang, North Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Il presided over a military parade Sunday alongside his youngest son and eventual successor in a massive coming out party for the newly anointed and still-mysterious young heir.
Kim Jong Eun, believed to be 27, stood near his ailing father on a long rostrum overlooking tens of the thousands of civilian performers and goose-stepping troops in a special celebration broadcast on state television. Until last month, when he was promoted to four-star general at a special meeting of the ruling Workers' Party, Kim Jong Eun had never appeared by name or face in the North Korean press.
"It is the first time I've seen them together," said Park Song Nam, 50, a performer who waved synthetic flowers hysterically for over an hour wearing a suit and tie. "I cried the whole time. ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â… I didn't feel tired because I saw the father and son together."
Chubby-cheeked and sporting closely cropped black hair, Kim Jong Eun cut a sharp, youthful contrast to his father, who looked frail and showed difficulty walking.
In a climactic finish to the ceremony, Kim Jong Il paced the edge of the rostrum to wave at adoring spectators cheering loudly over blaring marching music. The 68-year-old leader had to hold onto the platform's railing surrounded by aides.
The ceremony was held in Kim Il Sung Square, named after Kim Jong Il's father and founder of the nation. The location and trappings emphasized North Korea's intention to perpetuate the dynasty that has ruled the northern half of the peninsula since the end of World War II.
"He's the one, exactly the same as Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il," gushed Kim Soh Ye, a young woman in a festive Korean gown who was escorting foreign journalists for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Analysts said the lavish public display and the rare invitation extended to the foreign press was intended to demonstrate a smooth transition of power is in the works.
"Kim Jong Il needed to show that the succession is going well, that there is unity of purpose between the party and the military,'' said Moon Chung-in, a political science professor at the Seoul-based Yonsei University. "If there was internal turmoil, he could not come up with this kind of show.''
The parade was held in celebration of the 65th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Worker's Party. The organization held its most important meeting in three decades, in which Kim Jong Eun was named a four-star general.
The younger Kim did not wear a military uniform at the parade, however, opting for a dark blue suit similar to the one he was wearing in photographs released last month.
Barbara Demick of the Beijing bureau contributed to this report.