SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea organized a massive rally Wednesday to celebrate firing a satellite into space, while accusing Japan of trying to provoke conflict and hailing the "hardening" of its military policy through the widely criticized rocket launch.
The rally came a day before the rubber-stamp legislature was expected to announce Kim Jong Il's election to a third term as chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission amid lingering questions about his health and who might succeed him.
Footage obtained by APTN in Pyongyang showed a massive crowd of neatly dressed people packed in the main Kim Il Sung square — named after Kim's father, North Korea's founder — under a banner reading, "We enthusiastically congratulate on the successful launch" of a satellite.
North Korea claims the rocket it launched Sunday carried a satellite into space. The U.S. and South Korea, however, say nothing reached orbit and the launch was really a test of its long-range missile technology. They and Japan are leading a campaign in the U.N. Security Council to censure the North.
"The imperialists and reactionaries who have committed all kinds of despicable acts, tenaciously pursuing anti-(North Korea) moves to isolate and stifle us, will be driven into a yet tighter corner because of our satellite launch," Choe Tae Bok, a top Workers' Party official, told the rally.
Debate in the Security Council on whether to penalize North Korea for the launch remained stalled, with North Korea's closest ally, China, and Russia calling for restraint. The U.S. warned that a response would take time.
"This is not something you can expect that's going to be solved immediately," State Department spokesman Robert Wood said. Asked whether three days without U.N. action means North Korea can do anything with impunity, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, "It's not a long time in relations between nations or in the affairs of the Security Council."
North Korea's deputy U.N. ambassador, Pak Tok Hun, accused the Security Council of being "undemocratic" by targeting the communist nation while allowing many other countries to launch satellites. He warned that the North would retaliate with "strong steps" if the Security Council takes action.
Japan's chief government spokesman, Takeo Kawamura, said Wednesday the launch showed North Korea's missile technology was progressing.
"I think we can say that this was a more advanced launch than what we have seen up until now," he told reporters.
Later Wednesday, the North's military accused Japan of mobilizing warships to find fragments of the rocket, calling it a "vicious act of espionage" and an "intolerable military provocative act" that infringes upon the country's sovereignty, according to a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency
North Korea has organized similar rallies at times of high tensions with the outside world or after key events, such as the country's first nuclear test blast in 2006.
Also Wednesday, the country's main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, ran a lengthy editorial lauding Kim and his "great achievement of hardening the country's political and military power in every way."
"The future of our republic with heaven-made great commander and politician comrade Kim Jong Il at top of our nation is endlessly glorious and splendid," it said.
A day earlier, North Korea released two new videos — one showing Sunday's long-range rocket blasting off and the other a documentary of Kim's public appearances since his suspected stroke last August — a move aimed at setting the stage for his re-election to the defense post, the core of his power, according to analyst Kim Yong-hyun of Seoul's Dongguk University.
"North Korea is trying to show its people Kim's achievement and the solidness of his regime," the professor said.
Kim Jong Il, 67, inherited North Korea's reins after his father died in 1994. He is expected to attend Thursday's legislative session, according to South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles relations with the North. It would be Kim's first major public appearance since reportedly falling ill.
His health is of keen interest because he rules the nation of 24 million with absolute authority, allowing no opposition, and has not publicly named a successor.
The video "shows rumors about Kim's health problems are spreading among North Korean people" and the government is trying to overcome the rumors ahead of Kim's re-election, said Baek Seung-joo, an analyst at Seoul's state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.