December 27, 2011

Funeral for N. Korean 'dear leader' set for Wednesday

Thousands of people likely will file past a glass case housing the body of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during his funeral Wednesday to pay respects to the dictator, revered as a godlike "dear leader" by his people, an expert said.

While few details of the funeral plans have been released, Kim Jong Il's funeral likely will be modeled after that of his father, Kim Il Sung, in 1994, said Han Park, a professor at the University of Georgia's School of Public and International Affairs who is also director of the Globis Center for the Study of Global Issues.
However, Wednesday's funeral is expected to spotlight Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il's son and the man designated the "great successor" by the nation's Worker's Party.
Questions have been raised about Kim Jong Un's ability to take the reins of the reclusive communist nation, given his young age -- he is thought to be in his late 20s -- and relative inexperience.
"The system will try to make sure that Kim Jong Un, this young man, is a legitimate leader, so probably he will be spotlighted in the funeral procession," said Park.
While there is no official religion in North Korea, the funeral will probably touch on the Confucian tradition of ancestor worship, Park said.
The ceremony is to be followed by a memorial on Thursday. The state-run Korean Central News Agency said when the national memorial service is held Thursday, gun volleys will be fired in the capital, Pyongyang, as well as provincial seats.

"All the people will observe three minutes' silence and all locomotives and ships (those on voyage included) will blow whistles and those units with sirens will sound them all at once," KCNA said.
While the public "outpouring of grief" will be present at the funeral, it may not be as overwhelming as it was following the death of the elder Kim, regarded as the founder of communist North Korea, said Park, who has visited North Korea frequently and is in close contact with high-ranking officials there.
As loved as he might be among the North Korean people, "Kim Jong Il is no Kim Il Sung," said Park.
Kim Il Sung was much more charismatic, and his death was much more unexpected, he said. While Kim Il Sung was 83 to Kim Jong Il's 69, the elder Kim was thought to be in excellent health.
"Two weeks before his death, (Kim Il Sung) received Jimmy Carter," Park said, referring to the former American president. "In North Korea, no one actually anticipated or suspected the coming of his death ... Kim Jong Il, his health was failing. Everyone knew that."
The glass case to house Kim Jong Il's body was ready upon his death, he said. In Kim Il Sung's case, "it took days ... to make that arrangement preparation."

The funeral will be "a major event designed to affirm Kim Jong Un's new role at the same time that he pays respects to his father," wrote Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy for the Council on Foreign Relations. "This will also be the first opportunity to make judgments regarding his leadership style independent of his father."
Shortly after Kim Jong Il's death, the country's main state newspaper called on Kim Jong Un to "assume the supreme commandership," KCNA reported.

"The son is a blank slate," said Mike Chinoy, a former CNN correspondent who is now a senior fellow at the University of Southern California's U.S.-China Institute. "They face the challenge of building up his image and reputation faster than they might have done."
Park referred to "government by legacy" in North Korea. When Kim Jong Il succeeded his father, he also inherited much of Kim Il Sung's policies and philosophies, which have been "the backbone of policy-making," he said. Because of that, Parks said he does not expect to see drastic policy changes under Kim Jong Un.
Several upcoming events will also provide North Korea with opportunities to "reinforce the centrality of Kim Jong Un" as well as providing opportunities for external judgment on how the succession process is going, Snyder said.

Those include the New Year's address, typically a joint editorial or speech "assessing the challenges and goals for the year," he wrote. "The 2012 address may have already been written but can be scoured for deviations from the past and for evidence of possible rewriting post-Kim Jong Il's death. How the joint editorial is issued and whether Kim Jong Un might decide to personally deliver it, as well as the substance it contains, will offer some early clues to the actual role Kim Jong Un is and will be playing."
Kim Jong Un's birthday -- his first as leader -- on January 8 may also provide some clues, as well as Kim Jong Il's 70th birthday on February 16 -- still within the mourning period -- and Kim Il Sung's 100th birthday on April 15.

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