Kim appears for supreme leader vote


North Korean leader Kim Jong-il appeared at his first major event since he was suspected of suffering a stroke last year when parliament re-elected him the country's supreme military leader today.

The move by the Supreme People's Assembly - while unanimous and totally expected - marked Kim's return to centre stage as the reclusive communist state celebrates what it calls a triumphant satellite launch on the weekend.

North Korean TV broadcast footage that showed Kim looking thinner than he did before his suspected stroke in August. As he walked onto the stage at the newly elected assembly followed by other officials, delegates broke into thunderous applause.

Mr Kim (67) who typically does not speak when he attends the annual parliament sessions, did not appear to address the delegates. He has been conspicuously absent from major public events since his illness, which raised questions about his iron grip over Asia's only communist dynasty and whether anyone was waiting in the wings to succeed him.

North Korea has threatened to take "strong steps" if the UN Security Council punishes it for Sunday's rocket launch.

The Security Council has so far failed to agree on a response to what was widely seen as a disguised missile test, prompting US Senator John McCain to press China, the North's key ally, to get tough on its impoverished neighbour.

The North's KCNA news agency said Mr Kim was re-elected chairman of National Defence Commission, the seat of power in North Korea, which named state founder and Mr Kim's father Kim Il-sung eternal president after his death in 1994.

Analysts said the carefully choreographed session of the assembly would give Mr Kim a mandate that cements his legacy of building a military-first state and could pave the way to transfer power to one of his three sons.

North Korea's propaganda machine has carefully managed the re-emergence of Kim from his illness through reports about his tours to factories and military bases, while only showing still photographs of the visits.

It prepared the public for his full return by saying he was on hand on Sunday to watch the long-range rocket launch. On Tuesday, it showed video footage of the launch on state TV followed by a documentary on Kim where the public saw recent video images of him for the first time since his suspected stroke.