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N. Korea celebrates former leader's birthday

SEOUL -- North Korea celebrated the birth anniversary of late leader Kim Jong Il Sunday after promoting key military officials including the chief of its rocket unit, state media said.

Kim Rak Gyom, the commander of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Strategic Rocket Force Command, was promoted to colonel general at the order of leader Kim Jong Un, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported late Saturday.

The unit is in charge of the country's mid- and long-range missiles program.

Dozens of other senior military officials were also promoted to the rank of lieutenant general and major general, the KCNA said.

The latest round of military promotions — often announced on key political anniversaries — came as the North celebrated Jong Il's birthday.

The country marks the birthdays of both late leaders — Kim Jong Il's on Feb. 16 and his father Kim Il Sung's on April 15 — as major national holidays.

Thousands of party and military officials convened in the capital Pyongyang to pledge loyalty to Kim Jong Un, television footage showed on Sunday.

“Everybody, let's rally around the party center led by the great leader Kim Jong Un and robustly fight ... to complete the revolution!” the ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam said in a speech at an indoor stadium.

The crowds stood and clapped in unison, chanting “Mansei (Long live)!” as Kim Jong Un sat stone-faced at a podium along with top officials including Choe Ryong Hae, the director of the KPA's political bureau who is seen as the country's unofficial number two.

Kim Jong Un, as well as top army and party cadres, also visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in the capital to pay tribute to the embalmed bodies of his father and grandfather, the KCNA said.

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