PYONGYANG: As goose-stepping troops paraded in a square named after his grandfather, North Korea's new leader spoke in public for the first time Sunday -- but the message was unchanged from previous generations.
"We must strengthen our military in every possible way... and accomplish the goal of building a powerful and prosperous socialist state," Kim Jong-Un told crowds at a parade glorifying the dynasty which has ruled the country throughout its history.
The huge military parade in Kim Il-Sung Square -- featuring tanks, missiles, artillery and thousands of troops -- drove home the message. It marked the centenary of the birth of Kim Il-Sung, who founded the nation in 1948 and died in 1994, passing power on to his son Kim Jong-Il.
The new leader, aged only in his late 20s, has put forward a more outgoing image than his father Jong-Il, who died last December. Jong-Il is believed to have spoken publicly just once during his 18 years in power -- and that was a
Jong-Un -- wearing his customary blue Mao-style suit -- sounded confident and assured as he made his address, despite a failed rocket launch Friday which was seen as an international embarrassment for the nation.
He waved to the crowd from a balcony at the end of the ceremony.
The parade was staged against one of the world's most extraordinary urban backdrops -- a city centre dominated by massive monuments to the Kims and their ideology.
Huge portraits of the first two leaders were displayed on the square along with banners extolling their virtues. The Juche Tower, a monument to the national ideology of juche (self-reliance), loomed in the background.
"Let's fight and struggle with our lives for respected Comrade Kim Jong-Un," read one banner.
Critics say massive military spending by the impoverished but nuclear-armed communist state could be used to buy food for millions of malnourished people.
The North says it needs a Songun (military first) policy to deter enemies like the United States who threaten its socialist system.
A drum roll heralded the arrival of the first troops, goose-stepping in perfect sychronisation.
Military bandsmen, the spring sun glinting off their instruments, played "The Song of General Kim Il-Sung" as his grandson arrived to cheers and applause. A 21-gun salute boomed out.
After the speech, the march past began. The ground shook as troops crashed their feet into the concrete.
Units came both from the regular 1.2 million-strong military and from universities and secondary schools. A mounted parade featured khaki-clad troops in white capes.
There was even a ski troop, dressed in white and riding on a truck with their skis.
Diesel fumes filled the square as vehicles displaying an array of weaponry drove past -- trucks with multiple rocket launchers, tanks, armoured personnel carriers, artillery and an array of short- and medium-range missiles.
Five aircraft staged a fly-past.
Providing a bizarre backdrop, thousands of civilians waved artificial flowers -- red Kimjongilia or pink Kimilsungia named after the late leaders. (AFP)