Sunday 21 January 2018

North Koreans hail rocket launch

North Korean soldiers applaud during a mass rally organised to celebrate the success of a rocket launch in Pyongyang (AP)
North Korean soldiers applaud during a mass rally organised to celebrate the success of a rocket launch in Pyongyang (AP)

North Koreans have gathered en masse in a staged demonstration, partly to glorify Kim Jong Un and partly to celebrate the launch of a rocket which apparently put a weather monitoring satellite into orbit.

Only eight months after a very public rocket launch failure and less than a year in the job, North Korea's young leader took a very big gamble.

It paid off, at least in the short term, projecting his people as powerful, capable and determined. The rest of the world saw it as a thinly disguised test of banned long-range missile technology.

As a cold wave lifted, tens of thousands of people gathered at the snowy Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, some dancing in the plaza before the rally began, continuing beer-filled street celebrations that started on Wednesday.

Senior officials told the people that critics abroad were characterising the launch as a missile test. Denying the claims, they urged North Koreans to stand defiant in the face of outside condemnation.

Despite the success, experts say North Korea is years from even having a shot at developing reliable missiles that could bombard the American mainland and other distant targets.

The launch, 14 years after North Korea's first attempt, shows more than a little of the gambling spirit in the third Kim to rule North Korea since it became a country in 1948.

"North Korean officials will long be touting Kim Jong Un as a gutsy leader" who commanded the rocket launch despite being new to the job and young, said Kim Byung-ro, a North Korea specialist at Seoul National University in South Korea.

North Korean state media said Kim himself issued the order to fire the rocket on Wednesday despite the prospect of another failure and condemnation from abroad. He was praised for boldly carrying out his father and former leader Kim Jong Il's last wish before his death in December last year. Kim Jong Il had made development of missiles and nuclear weapons a priority despite international opposition and his nation's crushing poverty.

His son's success is likely to help him consolidate his power over a government crammed with elderly, old-school lieutenants of his father and grandfather, analysts said. But what is unclear is whether Kim will continue to smoothly solidify power, steering clear of friction with the powerful military while dealing with the strong possibility of more crushing sanctions against a country with what the United Nations calls a serious hunger problem.

Press Association

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