An extraordinary meeting of North Korea's ruling Communist Workers' Party has reappointed North Korean leader Kim Jong Il as its secretary-general.
The leader used the occasion to anoint his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, by appointing him as a four-star military general to begin what observers suggest is a long process of eventual succession. North Korean state media also reported that Kim Jong Un has been named a member of the ruling Workers' Party Central Committee.
The moves by the ailing North Korean leader, analysts say, marks the first stage of dynastic succession in the secretive state. Analysts say that Kim has tightened his grip on power through the appointments.
But the promotion of Kim Jong Il's sister, Kim Kyong Hui, to the rank of general -- reportedly a rare event in the North Korean military constellation -- was perhaps a bigger surprise.
Kim Kyong Hui's husband, Jang Seong Taek, is viewed by some outsiders as the country's de facto No. 2 leader.
"It's a process of forming the new power structure which, ideally, should look as following: Kim Jong Un will be the symbolic leader, the formal dictator, but this is a person who due to his age and lack of any political connections will have no real political power," Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University, in Seoul, South Korea, told RFE/RL's Russian Service. "So, behind this 'young king,' there will be a 'prince-regent.' It will be Jang Seong Taek and his wife, Kim Kyong Hui."
Kim Jong Il, 68, is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008. Many experts regard Kim Jong Un as too young and inexperienced to take the reins fully.
Speaking on North Korean television, an unnamed female presenter said Kim had issued a directive bestowing military rank on six people, including Jong Un and Kim Kyong.
"It is noted in the order that the military ranks of [Kim Jong Il's sister] Kim Kyong Hui, Kim Jong Un, Choe Ryong Hae, Hyon Myong Chol, Choe Bo Il, and Kim Kyong Ok are promoted to general," the state-television presenter said.
Choe Ryong Hae is considered a loyal aide of Kim and his family.
Intelligence officials say the youngest son of the "Dear Leader" was identified last year as next in line to take power in a country which for years has been punished by international sanctions for trying to develop nuclear weapons.
He is believed to have been born in 1983 or 1984 but little is known about him, even by intensely secretive North Korean standards, beyond the sketchy information that he went to school in Switzerland and has been his father's favorite.
"Most likely the young Kim Jong Un was chosen because, out of all candidates, he would probably not interfere in politics," Lankov said. "He will obediently continue the same line that his older comrades, and first of all Jang Seong Taek, will define. One can suppose that it will be practically the same policy as now, maybe with slight changes. But let me emphasize -- very slight change."
based on RFE/RL and agency reports