North Korea is planning a major military parade and a series of war games to mark the emergence of Kim Jong-il's third son as its next leader, the South Korean defence minister has confirmed.
In the first comments from Seoul about the transfer of power under way in North Korea, Kim Tae-young, the defence minister, told the South Korean parliament that around 15,000 soldiers have been assembled at the Mirim airbase near Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, since the beginning of July in order to prepare for the parade.
"The large-scale parade seems to be aimed at celebrating the formation of a succession platform for Kim Jong-un," Mr Kim said, adding that the exercise may take place before Sunday.
The North, with 1.2 million standing troops, has often celebrated major political anniversaries with elaborate displays of troops, missiles and other weapons.
He said the anointment of the 28-year-old younger Kim as North Korea's next leaders is almost complete. "It looks like Kim Jong-un will begin his public activities as a successor, and North Korea seems to focus on overcoming internal and external difficulties for the succession," he said. His father, 68, is thought to have suffered a stroke at the end of 2008, bringing the need for a succession plan into sharp focus.
The younger Kim was appointed a four-star general and give the post of vice chairman of North Korea's Central Military Commission last week.
In addition, his photograph was published in the state media for the first time ever.
On Monday, the Rodong Sinmun, North Korea's main state newspaper, carried a front-page editorial urging North Korea to unite behind their leadership. The editorial called upon North Koreans to "fight while never forgetting" the benefits they had enjoyed as "descendants" of Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea and Kim Jong-il's father.
Meanwhile, a report from Yonhap, the South Korean news agency, said that Kim Jong-un had accompanied his father on two trips to China this year in order to gain Beijing's approval. It said the younger Kim had behaved "like a bodyguard" to his father during the trips in May and August. However, the younger Kim did not attend meetings with Hu Jintao, the Chinese president. South Korea's National Intelligence Service said it could not confirm the report.
Partly because of its concerns over the instability of North Korea, as well as China's emergence as the major power in Asia, Japan has announced that it wishes to purchase three American-made Global Hawk spy drones to help boost its intelligence services. The unmanned high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft each cost around €34.5m, according to reports in the Japanese media.