BEIJING -- As North Korea made final preparations for a controversial rocket launch, its young new supreme leader, Kim Jong Un, was anointed with a new title Wednesday: He was named first secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party.
In his late 20s and Swiss-educated, he is the grandson of North Korea's founder, Kim Il Sung, and the son of longtime leader Kim Jong Il, who died in December.
Until being thrust into power upon his father's death, Kim Jong Un had rarely been in the public eye. Very few people knew exactly what he looked like until two years ago. In September 2010, he was promoted to a four-star general -- an event that doubled as his political coming-out.
The new title was probably created to help him control the party while continuing his father's legacy, analyst Paik Hak-Soon of the Sejong Institute told the Agence France-Presse.
"It's rather a smart move ... to highlight Jong Un's loyalty and love for his father and thus further legitimize his status as the latest protege of the ruling Kim dynasty," he told the news agency.
Kim Jong Un's formal ascension to the political post comes as North Korea readies to launch a satellite, alarming South Korean and Western officials who believe the act is a cover for testing its ballistic missile technology.
The rocket launch is the centerpiece of celebrations taking place this week to mark the centennial of Kim Il Sung’s birth, April 12, 1912 -- the same day, some note with irony, as the sinking of the Titanic.
Chinese President Hu Jintao in a statement Wednesday congratulated Kim Jong Un on his new title, but made no mention of the imminent test.
-- Barbara Demick in Beijing and Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves at Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang after reviewing a parade of thousands of soldiers in February. Credit: David Guttenfelder / Associated Press