REUTERS - North Korea re-elected leader Kim Jong-il as its supreme military leader at its newly elected parliament on Thursday, marking his return to centre stage as the country celebrates what it calls a triumphant satellite launch.
The move came as the U.N. Security Council failed to agree on an action in response to Sunday's launch, widely seen as a disguised missile test, prompting U.S. Senator John McCain to press China, the North's key ally, to get tough on its reclusive communist neighbour.
Kim, 67, has been conspicuously absent from major public events after a suspected stroke in August, which raised questions about his iron grip over the impoverished communist dynasty and whether anyone was waiting in the wings to succeed him.
"The First Session of the 12th Supreme People's Assembly of the DPRK held here elected leader Kim Jong Il chairman of the DPRK National Defence Commission," its KCNA news agency said, using the official name Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
The chairman of the National Defence Commission is the seat of power in North Korea, which named state founder and Kim's father Kim Il-sung eternal president after his death in 1994.
"This ... marks a great event strikingly demonstrating the unshakable faith and will of the army and people of the DPRK to firmly defend and glorify the Korean-style socialist system centred on the popular masses," it said.
Analysts said the carefully choreographed session of the rubber-stamp Supreme People's Assembly would give Kim a mandate that cements his legacy of building a military-first state and could pave the way to transfer power to one of his three sons.
It was unclear whether Kim has appeared at the meeting as he customarily does at the opening session of parliament.
North Korea's propaganda machine has carefully managed the re-emergence of Kim from his illness through reports about his tours to factories and military bases, while only showing still photographs of the visits.
It prepared the public for his full return by saying he was on hand Sunday to watch the long-range rocket launch. On Tuesday, it showed video footage of the launch on state TV followed by a documentary on Kim where the public saw recent video images of him for the first time since his suspected stroke.
Analysts said the launch was a test of a long-range missile designed to carry a warhead as far as Alaska. The United States, Japan and South Korea say it violated U.N. resolutions banning North Korea from ballistic missile activity.
China and Russia were among the Security Council members who remained unconvinced the launch was a violation of the resolutions. China's U.N. ambassador has called for restraint, opposing actions he said would only escalate tension.
After meeting China's defence minister in Beijing, McCain said it was time that country did more.
"They can, and should, and haven't, exercised more influence on North Korea to try to rein in this threat to stability in this part of the world," he said, adding regarding China's calls for restraint: "We've heard that for years."
At the first session of the new parliament that sits for five years, there is expected to be a further reshuffling of the power apparatus within the National Defence Commission, likely to be expanded in a way that further strengthens Kim, its chairman.
The reshuffle and appointments will bring in those more sympathetic to one of Kim's three sons eventually succeeding him, analysts said.