North Korea Fills High-Ranking Position

North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il promoted his brother-in-law to the state's No. 2 position today in what analysts say is an apparent move to engineer a gradual transition of power to his youngest son Jong-un.

The reclusive North Korean leader made an appearance at a rare second parliamentary session to name his brother-in-law, Jang Sung-thaek, 64, to the post of vice chairman of the National Defense Commission. The 678-member rubber-stamp parliament that gives routine approval to its leader's policy decisions rarely holds two sessions in a year.

"Jang has always been playing a crucial role as the closest man to the leader," said Kim Young-Hyun, professor of North Korean Studies at Dongkuk University. "It's too early to tell, but he's probably meant to play the middle man's role in transferring power. But it may also mean that the pinnacle of power has consolidated around Jang for good."

Jang is known to be a moderate pragmatist who has been backing Kim Jong-il's third son Jong-un as the next heir, according to local reports in Seoul.

Today's cabinet shuffle included the dismissal of Premier Kim Yong-il, a move that appears to be an attempt to contain social unrest following a disastrous currency revaluation last year that dealt a heavy blow to an already crippled economy, analysts said.

In his place, Pyongyang's Central News Agency reported Choe Yong-rim, 81, chief secretary of the Pyongyang City Committee of the Workers' Party, was named the country's new premier. Choe is a technocrat from the old guard who had served as the chief of staff for Kim's father and state founder, Kim Il-sung.

"They just needed another face to give an impression that someone new will be in charge of economic policies to change the current situation," said professor Kim.

Woo-Kyung Chloe Jung contributed to this story.

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