PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea vowed to unite behind leader Kim Jong Un during carefully staged events Tuesday to mark the second anniversary of his father's death, in an attempt to show it has returned to business as usual after the purge and execution of his once-powerful uncle last week.
Kim sat silently as a stadium full of military and party officials paid homage to his father, Kim Jong Il, at the day's main event. He was flanked by Kim Yong Nam, the ceremonial head of state, and Vice Marshal Choe Ryong Hae, representing the military. Conspicuously absent was Jang Song Thaek, who was executed after being accused of corruption and trying to overthrow the government.
Jang was widely seen as the second-most powerful man in North Korea before his fall. The regime's decision to execute and publicly vilify him — charges of everything from alleged drug abuse to womanizing to trying to create his own powerbase were trumpeted daily in the state media — heightened questions over the stability of Kim's two-year-old leadership and shattered the North's carefully cultivated illusion of total unity.
But with Jang now out of the picture — he is already being deleted from state media archives — North Korea's official message Tuesday was back to its usual calls for "single-minded unity" behind Kim's leadership.
As top officials sat with Kim on a wide stage at the Pyongyang Indoor Gymnasium for Tuesday's event with a huge portrait of Kim Jong Il behind them, heads bowed as the traditional North Korean funeral dirge played. At several points during the speeches, all rose to applaud the "immortal and glorious exploits" of the late leader. Kim Jong Un, wearing a gray Mao suit, did not speak at the ceremony.
"Once more, our people's army is firmly determined to guarantee the victory of our great general's revolutionary cause," Choe said, adding that the military would "hold high the flag of the part" and follow "the ever-victorious leadership of our supreme commander."
Three minutes of silence were observed at the start of the ceremony.
Jang's wife, Kim Kyong Hui, who is Kim Jong Un's aunt, did not appear at Tuesday's memorial. But she was noted by state media over the weekend in connection with another funeral of a top official, a sign that she has survived Jang's removal.
Contradicting past assertions of unity and strength, North Korea has acknowledged its leadership had indeed been roiled by the challenge by Kim's mentor and uncle after the 2011 death of Kim's father. The acknowledgement of dissension and dangerous instability in the government has raised fears of what's ahead as Kim tries to revive a moribund economy while maintaining and advancing development of the country's nuclear arsenal.
On the eve of the anniversary Monday, tens of thousands of people crowded Mansu Hill in Pyongyang, where two giant bronze statues of national founder Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il stand. A mass rally of the military was also held outside the mausoleum where the two Kims lie in state to swear allegiance to Kim Jong Un and the ruling Workers' Party.
As the ceremony began Tuesday, Pyongyang's streets were empty.
Regular citizens are often expected to attend memorial gatherings at their workplaces, some watching the live broadcast of the Central Memorial Meeting on state TV. Many then turned out in groups at portraits and monuments around the city to lay flowers before going back to work. The anniversary is not a public holiday and work continues around the memorial meetings and events.
There were no major displays of public grief like the tears and wailing that filled the days after Kim's death in 2011.
State media, meanwhile, has already switched back to usual propaganda fare.
Jang is no longer in the headlines and has been deleted from at least one recently aired documentary. The focus has shifted strongly back to the glorification of Kim Jong Il and a series of on-site guidance visits by Kim Jong Un, who has in the past several days traveled to a military institute, a ski resort and a fish factory, all in keeping with the long-standing propaganda message that he's deeply engaged in the business of running the country.