Belfast Telegraph

Friday 24 October 2014

People line streets for Kim funeral

A portrait of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is carried past mourners during his funeral procession in Pyongyang (AP/Kyodo News)
Kim Jong Un walks next to his father's hearse during the funeral procession of the late North Korean leader in Pyongyang (AP/KRT)
Military officers cry during a funeral procession for the late leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang (AP/Kyodo News)

North Korea's next leader has escorted his father's hearse in an elaborate state funeral, saluting in front of tens of thousands of people who wailed and stamped their feet in grief for Kim Jong Il.

Son and successor Kim Jong Un was head mourner on the snowy day in Pyongyang, walking with one hand on the black hearse that carried his father's coffin on its roof, his other hand raised in salute.

At the end of the two-and-a-half hour procession, rifles fired 21 times as Kim Jong Un stood flanked by the top party and military officials who are expected to be his inner circle of advisers. He then saluted again as soldiers carrying flags and rifles marched by.

Whereas his father was groomed for power for 20 years before taking over, the younger Kim has had fewer than two years. He faces the huge challenges of running a country that struggles to feed its people even as it pursues a nuclear weapons programme that has earned it international sanctions and condemnation.

Kim Jong Il - who led with absolute rule after his father Kim Il Sung's death in 1994, through a famine that killed hundreds of thousands and the controversial build-up of North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes - died of a heart attack on December 17, aged 69.

Mourners lined the streets of Pyongyang, waving, stamping and crying as the convoy bearing his coffin passed. Some struggled to get past police holding back the crowd.

The dramatic scenes of grief showed how effectively North Korea built a personality cult around Kim Jong Il despite chronic food shortages and decades of economic hardship.

A large challenge for North Korea's propaganda apparatus will be "to counter the public's perception that the new leader is a spoiled child of privilege", said Brian Myers, an expert on North Korean propaganda at Dongseo University in Busan, South Korea.

"Having Kim Jong Un trudge mournfully next to the hearse in terrible weather was a very clever move," Mr Myers said.

Even as North Koreans mourned the loss of the second leader the nation has known, the transition of power to Kim Jong Un was well under way. The young man, who is in his late 20s, is already being hailed by state media as the "supreme leader" of the party, state and army.

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