N. Korea leader rallies army commanders

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il rallied hundreds of top military commanders as world powers pressed the United Nations to censure his government amid mounting concern the isolated communist regime was preparing its first nuclear test.

Japan’s vice foreign minister said the test could come as early as this weekend, the anniversary of Kim’s appointment as head of the Korean Workers’ Party in 1997. Japan said it was stepping up monitoring of North Korea.

With tensions rising, North Korea’s Kim met his top brass and urged them to bolster the nation’s defenses, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said. Officers greeted him with rousing cheers of “Fight at the cost of our lives!”

North Korean state television aired still shots of the bouffant-haired leader waving to an assembled crowd of about 500 olive-suited officers in dress caps. Kim later posed for a group photo with his commanders in front of Pyongyang’s sprawling mausoleum for his father and national founder, Kim Il Sung.

The meeting was the reclusive leader’s first reported appearance in three weeks and the first since Tuesday, when his government shocked the world by announcing plans to test a nuclear device on its way to building an arsenal of atomic weapons.

It was unclear when the rally took place, or how many attended, but it could show that Kim is trying to polish his credentials with the country’s cherished military at a time when international pressure is mounting on Pyongyang.

The KCNA dispatch made no mention of a nuclear test.

Kim’s last reported public activity was when KCNA reported on Sept. 15 that he visited the scenic Diamond Mountain near the border with South Korea.

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