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N Korea heir 'outstanding leader'

A North Korean newspaper has labelled Kim Jong Il's young son as an "outstanding leader", as US officials reveal the handover of power appears to be going smoothly.

Foreign governments have focused intense scrutiny on North Korea since Kim's death was announced Monday because of concerns over his untested heir's rise in a country with a nuclear programme, 1.2-million strong military and a history of deep animosity toward its neighbours.

But there has been no outward unrest in the capital or troop movements along its borders.

"This appears to be a relatively smooth transition on the peninsula, and we hope it stays that way," Pentagon spokesman George Little said in Washington, adding that there has been no increase in force protection levels for US troops in South Korea.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak sought to assure Pyongyang that his country was "not hostile," despite putting its front-line troops on alert since Kim's death was announced.

An editorial in the North's main newspaper Rodong Sinmun urged the country to "rally, rally and rally behind great comrade Kim Jong Un and faithfully uphold his leadership". It called him "the outstanding leader of our party, military and people and a great successor".

Officials have also claimed that Kim Jong Il's death generated a series of spectacular natural phenomena, creating a mysterious glow atop a revered mountain and cracking a sheet of ice on a lake with a loud roar.

Dramatic scenes of mourning in the capital have continued since Monday's announcement of Kim's death, which the government says happened two days earlier when he suffered a massive heart attack while on a train.

On Thursday, a long line of North Koreans filed passed the body of Kim Jong Il, which lay in state in the Kumsusan Memorial Palace. With a military band playing a funeral dirge and a flag flying at half-mast above the palace, mourners in black suits slowly circled Kim's glass coffin, Kim's head and shoulders bathed in a spotlight, a red cloth pulled tight around his body.

Communication between the United States and North Korea still appears open as the North continues its official 11-day mourning period. This is in sharp contrast to the confusion that followed the death of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung in 1994 and an indication that discussions may resume after the mourning period on food aid and efforts to rid North Korea of its nuclear arms programmes.

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