SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea's ruling communist party members gathered in Pyongyang ahead of their largest political conference in 30 years, state media reported Monday, amid predictions that leader Kim Jong Il would use the meeting to give a key ruling party position to one of his sons.

North Korea has said it will hold a rare Workers' Party conference early this month to elect new party leaders, sparking speculation that the event would be linked to Kim's moves to groom his third and youngest son — Kim Jong Un — as his successor. No exact date for the meeting has been provided.

On Monday, the North's main Rodong Sinmun said that local delegates to the meeting were gathering in Pyongyang for a meeting that it said would "mark a meaningful chapter in the history of our party."

"The people's hearts awaiting the revolutionary, festive occasion heat up due to their joy and happiness," the paper said in a lengthy commentary carried by the North's government-run Uriminzokkiri website.

It praised the Workers' Party for guiding the country to overcome many unspecified difficulties in the past, saying all the North Koreans must unite around the party to protect it. The commentary gave no details on what the latest party meeting will discuss.

The Workers' Party meeting is its first major gathering since its landmark 1980 congress where Kim Jong Il was confirmed as North Korea's next leader. He eventually took over power in 1994 when his father Kim Il Sung died of heart failure in communism's first hereditary transfer of power.

North Korea watchers predicted Kim Jong Il would give his youngest son a key Workers' Party job during this month's conference to help bolster his position as his successor.

On Sunday, several thousand people carrying colorful plastic flowers gathered in Pyongyang's main Kim Il Sung square to rehearse a celebration for the party meeting, China's official Xinhau News Agency reported from Pyongyang. Some children also rehearsed at a scenic spot at Pyongyang's Taedong River, the report said.

The rehearsal ended early due to rain, Xinhua said. One Xinhua photo showed a crowd of people packing a Pyongyang street and waving red and pink plastic flowers, while another photo showed people putting up umbrellas and heading home afterward.

Pyongyang's state media have reported that the country's major provinces and cities have completed electing delegates to take part in the meeting but it remains unclear when it will take place.

South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported Monday that the meeting will start Tuesday or Wednesday, citing an unidentified source privy to North Korea affairs. North Korea monitoring groups are split over the starting date, with some saying it already began Saturday with the registration of participants while others say it will be held from Thursday to Friday.