North Korea to convene parliament in early April

The Associated Press
Thursday, March 17, 2011; 11:00 PM

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea will convene its parliament early next month in a session closely watched for further signs that leader Kim Jong Il is handing over power to his youngest son.

The 12th Supreme People's Assembly will meet in Pyongyang on April 7, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said Friday in a brief report monitored in Seoul. The decision was made by the parliament's top leadership on Tuesday, KCNA said.

North Korea's parliament typically meets a few times a year to discuss and approve the year's budget. However, the sessions also are scrutinized by the outside world for signs of key changes in policy and leadership.

Now 69, Kim Jong Il is believed to be grooming son Kim Jong Un to succeed him as leader of the nation of 24 million people. Kim Jong Il himself took over leadership from his father, late founder and President Kim Il Sung.

Kim Jong Un, who is in his late 20s, was unveiled to the public last year when he was made a four-star general and promoted to a key military leadership role in the ruling Workers' Party.

The next major step in the succession campaign would be a promotion to the powerful National Defense Commission, where Kim Jong Il serves as chairman, the nation's top post, analysts said.

"What you need to watch out for are first, whether or not Kim Jong Un will be given the position of vice chairman of the National Defense Commission," said Prof. Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

At last year's June session, Kim Jong Il's brother-in-law Jang Song Thaek was named vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, a promotion seen as a bid to tighten the circle of power around trusted family members.

Jang is married to Kim Jong Il's younger sister, Kim Kyong Hui.

North Korea's current parliament, elected in March 2009, has 687 members. Kim Jong Un was not listed among them at last year's session.

© 2011 The Associated Press