Jang, 68-year-old husband of the Dear Leader's younger sister, Kim Kyong-hui, assumes the new title at a critical time. Kim is widely believed to be preparing for his youngest son, Kim Jong-eun, still in his 20s, to take over.
Adding to the sense of crisis is the need to fend off accusations from South Korea, the United States, and others of North Korea’s role in torpedoing a South Korean Navy ship, the Cheonan, in March, killing 46 sailors.
North Korea has strongly denied the result of an investigation conducted by South Korea, with international observers, that concluded that a North Korean midget submarine had fired the torpedo. The North Korean media has daily denounced plans to bring the case before the United Nations Security Council as a “provocation” and vowed “punishment.”
A sign of North Korea’s anxiety to defend itself against calls by South Korea and the US for condemnation by the UN was the appointment of a faithful party hand, Choe Yong-rin, as premier. Mr. Choe, as chief of the Workers’ Party in the capital district, led a rally last week at which 100,000 people reportedly shouted slogans denying that North Korea had staged the attack on the Cheonan.