December 29, 2011

Hundreds of thousands in North Korea mourn Kim Jong Il

BEIJING – Hundreds of thousands of people filled North Korea's capital square today for a public memorial service for leader Kim Jong Il as the nation declared his son the new "supreme leader."

Kim Jong Un, dubbed the "great successor" by North Korean state media following the death of his father, looked on from a balcony overlooking Pyongyang's main plaza, Kim Il Sung Square, his head bowed. He was flanked by top party and military leaders.
Ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam told the sea of people that Kim Jong Un inherits his father's "ideology, character and revolutionary" cause and "is our party and military's supreme leader.''

The public memorial service, which was to be accompanied by gun salutes fired nationwide, came a day after a massive funeral procession for Kim Jong Il sparked wailing and chest-beating from thousands of military and civilian mourners lining the capital's snowy streets.
Kim Jong Un walked at times alongside the hearse that carried his father's coffin along a 25-mile route on Wednesday.
At the end of the 2½-hour procession, rifles fired 21 times as Kim Jong Un stood flanked by top party and military officials who are likely to be his inner circle of advisers. He then saluted again as goose-stepping soldiers carrying flags and rifles marched by.
Kim Jong Il, who ruled the nation for 17 years with absolute power after his father Kim Il Sung's death in 1994, died of a heart attack Dec. 17 at age 69. He led the nation during a famine that killed hundreds of thousands and pursued nuclear and missile programs.
The hermit nation had invited no foreign delegations to attend the funeral, and overseas news media were denied access.
The ceremony mirrored the 1994 funeral of Kim Jong Il's father, Kim Il Sung, North Korea's founding father. But unlike Kim Jong Il, who was groomed for two decades to succeed his father to lead the North, Kim Jong Un was anointed as successor last year and has been forced into the limelight at a far quicker pace.
He faces the huge challenges of running a country that struggles to feed its people and continues its nuclear weapons program, which has earned the country international sanctions and condemnation.
On Wednesday, Kim Jong Un led much older military and ruling party figures who accompanied his father's hearse, a sign of prominence that the inexperienced Kim Jong Un is to be the third generation of the Kim dynasty to lead the country.
As Kim Jong Il's funeral unfolded Wednesday, KCNA lauded him as the "great leader who provided Korean people with happy life."
Most North Koreans still live in poverty and hunger, according to the United Nations, but the extravagant ceremony "shows where their priorities are," said Jim Hoare, a Korea expert and former British consul-general in Pyongyang. "The leadership should be seen to be grand and lavish in its monumental buildings," he said.

The funeral procession started and finished at a memorial palace that was doubled in size after Kim Il Sung's death to house the embalmed body of the "eternal president," Hoare said.
KCNA reported that mourners were "praying for the immortality of Kim Jong Il," but Pyongyang has yet to announce whether he will also be embalmed and put on public display like his father — and fellow communists Vladimir Lenin in Russia, Mao Zedong in China and Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam.
North Korea analysts focused on the prominence Wednesday of Jang Song Thaek, Kim Jong Il's brother-in-law and a vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission, who is likely to be a key mentor for the younger Kim as he takes power.
Hoare said the funeral offered "no real clue as to the real disposition of power. … We'll only see as time passes. For the present, we are seeing the formal presentation of the succession as laid down by Kim Jong Il."
The sketchy biography of Kim Jong Un, who is in his 20s, reveals how little is known about the secretive regime.

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