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North Koreans observe end of 100-day mourning period following death of leader Kim Jong Il
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) ' North Korea urged its people to rally behind new leader Kim Jong Un as tens of thousands gathered Sunday in a central square to observe the end of a 100-day mourning period following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.
The commemoration comes as North Korea prepares to launch a satellite into space on a long-range rocket next month ' plans that the United States warns could jeopardize a recent deal that would ship U.S. food aid to the North in exchange for a moratorium on missile and nuclear tests.
To the south, President Barack Obama on Sunday visited the heavily armed border between the Koreas, praising U.S. troops stationed there.
While North Korea isn't on the formal agenda of an international nuclear security summit Monday and Tuesday, Pyongyang's launch plans are expected to dominate discussions by Obama and other world leaders gathering in Seoul.
North Korea said it will fire a rocket carrying an observation satellite around the April 15 celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un's grandfather.
Washington says North Korea uses such launches as cover for testing missile systems for nuclear weapons that could target Alaska and beyond. The U.N. Security Council condemned North Korea's last long-range rocket launch, in 2009. Pyongyang, which said it was testing satellite technology for peaceful purposes, abandoned six-nation nuclear disarmament talks and, weeks later, carried out a second nuclear test.
On Sunday, state media showed tens of thousands of people gathered in Pyongyang to pay their respects to Kim Jong Il, the longtime leader who died of a heart attack Dec. 17. Top officials made speeches praising the late leader and pledging loyalty to his successor.
"We have to unite, unite and unite again behind dear comrade Kim Jong Un," Premier Choe Yong Rim said from a balcony, where Kim Jong Un and other officials stood.
People's Armed Forces Minister Kim Yong Chun said in a separate speech that his troops would become "guns" and "bombs" to protect Kim Jong Un with their lives.
Top officials and state media have made similar pledges of loyalty to Kim Jong Un, who has assumed a slew of prominent titles such as supreme commander of the 1.2 million-member military since his father's death. Kim Jong Un is expected to further consolidate his power by taking up other top state jobs.
North Korea said Saturday that the country's parliament will hold its annual session on April 13. The session will be closely watched by outsiders for clues to changes in the North's power structure.
North Korea's ruling Workers' Party is also due to hold a separate conference in mid-April.