NKorea marks foundation anniversary amid speculation on another father-to-son succession

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea marked its 62nd founding anniversary Thursday with patriotic songs and commentaries admiring leader Kim Jong Il, amid uncertainty over whether the secretive country has begun a rare political meeting believed aimed at promoting one of Kim's sons as his successor.

State media reported Monday that delegates to the Workers' Party were gathering in Pyongyang to elect new party leaders in what would be North Korea's first major political conference in 30 years. By Thursday morning, however, there had been no word on whether the meeting — slated to take place in "early September" — has begun.

Analysts believe Kim will use the conference to give his third and youngest son — Kim Jong Un — a key party position in efforts to hand over power to him and extend the Kim dynasty into a third generation.

Kim Jong Il himself took over power in 1994 when his father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, died of heart failure in communism's first hereditary transfer of power.

North Korea watchers had earlier predicted the meeting was to start Monday and end before Thursday — the 62nd birthday of the North's establishment. They, however, speculate now that the meeting was put off by several days due to leader Kim's falling health, recent flooding and other matters.

"It's because of Kim Jong Il's health. There is no other reason," said Ha Tae-keung, chief of Open Radio for North Korea, a Seoul-based station specializing in North Korea affairs, citing unidentified sources in Pyongyang.

"He has to be in the conference at least five hours, though he will be sitting most of time. I think he's trying to find a day when he is well enough to do that," he said.

Kim — long said to be suffering from diabetes and a kidney ailment — had a stroke in 2008, sparking fears about instability and a possible power struggle in the nuclear-armed country if he were to die without anointing a successor.

The North's recent flooding, which likely disrupted the country's roads and outdated railways, is believed to have caused delays in local party delegates arriving at Pyongyang for the conference, said Jo Sung-rae from the Seoul-based activist group Pax Koreana. He cited unidentified sources in North Korea.

Ha said the conference was to start on Thursday for a two-day run, but Jo said it could begin Friday or early next week — after the foundation anniversary.

On Thursday, the North's state TV broadcast patriotic songs calling for loyalty to Kim Jong Il, calling him a "great, friendly general."

The country's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper also issued a lengthy editorial urging its 24 million people to unite behind Kim to support his "military-first policy" and achieve an inter-Korean unification.

The founding anniversary is a major holiday in North Korea, along with the birthdays of Kim Jong Il and his father, who have ruled the country surrounded by strong personality cults.

South Korea's spy agency believes the North has launched a propaganda campaign promoting Kim Jong Un, including songs and poems praising him.

Little is known about Kim Jong Un, including his exact age, and there are no confirmed photos of him as an adult. A former sushi chef to Kim Jong Il wrote in a 2003 memoir that Jong Un looks and acts just like his father and is the leader's favorite among his three known sons.