North Korea promotes military chiefs as it marks late leader Kim Jong Il's birth

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (centre) visits the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun on the 72nd birth anniversary of North Korea's late leader Kim Jong Il in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang, on Sunday, F
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (centre) visits the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun on the 72nd birth anniversary of North Korea's late leader Kim Jong Il in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang, on Sunday, Feb 16, 2014. North Korea celebrated the birth anniversary of late leader Kim Jong Il on Sunday after promoting key military officials including the chief of its rocket unit, state media said. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - North Korea celebrated the birth anniversary of late leader Kim Jong Il on Sunday after promoting key military officials including the chief of its rocket unit, state media said.

Kim Rak Gyom, the commander of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Strategic Rocket Force Command, was promoted to colonel general at the order of leader Kim Jong Un, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported late Saturday.

The unit is in charge of the country's mid- and long-range missiles programme.

Dozens of other senior military officials were also promoted to the rank of lieutenant general and major general, the KCNA said.

The latest round of military promotions - often announced on key political anniversaries - came as the North celebrated Kim Jong Il's birthday.

The country marks the birthdays of both late leaders - Kim Jong Il's on February 16 and his father Kim Il-Sung's on April 15 - as major national holidays.

Thousands of party and military officials convened in the capital Pyongyang to pledge loyalty to Kim Jong Un, television footage showed on Sunday.

"Everybody, let's rally around the party centre led by the great leader Kim Jong-Un and robustly fight... to complete the revolution!" the ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam said in a speech at an indoor stadium.

The crowds stood and clapped in unison, chanting "Mansei (Long live)!" as Kim Jong Un sat stone-faced at a podium along with top officials including Choe Ryong Hae, the director of the KPA's political bureau who is seen as the country's unofficial number two.

Kim Jong Un, as well as top army and party cadres, also visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in the capital to pay tribute to the embalmed bodies of his father and grandfather, the KCNA said.

The military promotions come after an analysis of new satellite images posted on the 38 North website showed stepped up excavation activity at the North's main nuclear test site, although there were no signs that any further test was imminent.

A successful rocket launch staged by Pyongyang in December 2012 raised alarm over the isolated country's growing missile capability.

North Korea has tested missiles that could strike the South or Japan but has not yet tested a working inter-continental ballistic missile it claims to have.

The Kim family has ruled the communist state for more than six decades through a pervasive personality cult and an iron fist.

Kim Jong Il, who died of a heart attack in December 2011, was succeeded by his son Kim Jong Un.

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