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youngest son a four-star general in a major promotion seen Tuesday as confirmation that he is slated to become the country’s next leader. The announcement appeared in state media hours before a historic Workers’ Party meeting Tuesday where Kim, 68 and apparently in deteriorating health, was expected to grant son Kim Jong Un and other family members top posts in plans to take the communist dynasty into a third generation.

The North Korean capital was in a festive mood, with banners and placards celebrating the meeting, the communist country’s biggest political gathering in 30 years.

It was state media’s first mention of Kim Jong Un, who has remained so well hidden from the outside world that not even his face or exact age can be confirmed. He is believed to be 27 or 28, and is said to have been schooled in Switzerland and educated at Kim Il Sung Military University in Pyongyang.

However, it is clear that “Kim Jong Un’s promotion is the starting point for his formal succession to power,” said Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Dongguk University.

“It’s clearly the biggest news we’ve had from North Korea since the death of Kim Il Sung,” said Peter Beck, a Council on Foreign Relations-Hitachi research fellow at Keio University in Tokyo.

“I think it clearly demonstrates that Kim Jong Il is committed to maintaining control of the country within his family,” he said.

The appointment also ap

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