Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Dear Dead Leader: Body of Kim Jong Il placed in glass coffin as dictator's son arrives to claim his inheritance

-Son and successor leads respects in Kumsusan Memorial Palace, Pyongyang
-North Korea in national period of mourning before state funeral on December 28
-Military pledges support for Kim Jong Un, declaring him 'born of heaven'
-But concerns are raised over transition of power to relatively unknown third son
-U.S. calls for peaceful transition of power in reclusive nation

By Wil Longbottom

In state: The body of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has been placed in a glass coffin in Kumsusan Memorial Palace, Pyongyang

The body of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il has been laid in state in a glass coffin as weeping mourners filled public squares across the country.

State television showed still images of the 'dear leader's' body in the open coffin, surrounded by wreaths and covered with a red blanket.

Kim Jong Un - his third son and successor - paid his respects to his father along with top military and Workers' Party officials during a 'solemn ceremony'.

Respects: The 69-year-old is surrounded by floral wreaths and his medals and is covered in a red blanket

North Korea is in an 11-day period of official mourning, with flags flown at half-mast at all military units, factories, businesses, farms and public buildings.

The streets of the capital Pyongyang were quiet, but crowds of people gathered at landmarks to mourn Kim Jong Il who died suddenly on Saturday from a massive heart attack at the age of 69.

Kim Jong Il ruled North Korea for 17 years in a brutal and repressive dictatorship.

Under his regime's economic mismanagement, a terrible famine in the 1990s caused the death of millions from starvation and hardship.

He imprisoned thousands of political 'opponents' and there is no access to freedom of the press, the internet or health care in the country.

Ceremony: Kim Jong Il will have a state funeral on December 28 and will be laid to rest in the palace, where the body of his father is also on display

Tears: Kim Jong Un cries as he pays his respects to his father and former leader

Successor: Kim Jong Un, heir to power in North Korea, pays his respects to his father

Duty: High level officials (L to R) Kim Phyong Hae, Thae Jong Su, Ju Kyu Chang and Kim Rak Hui - all members of the Workers' Party - weep as they pass their former leader's coffin

His body was lying in state in the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, a mausoleum where the embalmed body of his father - national founder Kim Il Sung - has been on display in a glass sarcophagus since his death in 1994.

A state funeral will be held there on December 28.

Ri Ho Il, a lecturer at the Korean Revolutionary History Museum, said: 'Our General is our people's benevolent father. He defended our people's happiness, carrying on his forced march night and day.'

Since Kim Jong Il's death, state media have stepped up their lavish praise of his son Kim Jong Un in an effort to strengthen a cult of personality around him similar to that of his father.

Family: Kim Jong Un glances at his father's body as he walks past the coffin in Pyongyang

Hotseat: Kim Jong Un is expected to succeed his father after he was announced as his official heir last year

Unknown: Little is known about Kim Jong Il's third son, but he was 'unveiled' to the world media a year ago after his father suffered health problems in 2008

Allies: The successor must now forge ties in the North Korean army and Workers' Party

Honours: Medals belonging to the former North Korean despot were on display by his coffin

Tributes: Men prepare a floral arrangement outside the North Korean embassy in Beijing, China

Grief: Workers at a branch of the North Korean consulate in Dandong, China, weep at the death of their 'dear leader'

Although there have been no signs of unrest or discord in Pyongyang's sombre streets, the possibility of a power struggle in a country seeking nuclear weapons and known for its secrecy has heightened tensions in the region.

Officials said they will not invite foreign delegations and will allow no entertainment during the mourning period.

The Korean Central News Agency described Kim Jong Un as a 'great person born of heaven', a propaganda term only his father and grandfather Kim Il Sung had enjoyed.

Loss: New ruler Kim Jong Un, centre, bows with high level party members and generals as they mourn

Defiance: North Korean defectors chant slogans in Seoul after the death of Kim Jong Il

Mourning: North Korean flags are at half-mast, with many also having black ribbons tied to them

The Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the ruling Workers' Party, added he was 'the spiritual pillar and the lighthouse of hope' for the people.

It described him as 'born of Mount Paektu' - one of Korea's most cherished sites and Kim Jong Il's official birthplace.

Yesterday, North Korea's military pledged to 'uphold the leadership of comrade Kim Jong Un' and called him a 'great successor'.

Protest: A man sprays paint over the North Korean flag during a demonstration in Seoul. There are concerns over the transition of power following Kim Jong Il's death

Dictator in training: Kim Jong Il was in power for 17 years as North Korea's 'dear leader'. Right, his third son Kim Jong Un was only unveiled as his successor a year ago

But other countries are closely monitoring developments in the notoriously secretive country.

South Korea's military has been put on high alert and experts warned that the next few days could be a crucial turning point for the north, which has a relatively well-supported 1.2million-strong army.

Kim Jong Il's death could set back efforts by the U.S. and others to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.

Concerns are also high that his son - believed to be in his late twenties - may feel he needs to prove himself by precipitating a crisis or displaying his swagger on the international stage.

Kim Jong Il was in power for 17 years after his father's death, and was groomed for the role years before that. His son only emerged as the likely heir over the last year.

Sarah McDowall, a senior analyst with U.S.-based consultants IHS, said: 'The sudden death of Kim Jong Il has plunged the isolated state of North Korea into a period of major uncertainty.

'There are real concerns that heir-apparent Kim Jong Un has not had sufficient time to form the necessary alliances in the country to consolidate his future as leader.'

Others said the country was unlikely to plunge into chaos because it has been preparing for transition since Kim Jong Il indicated his third son would become his successor.

South Korea today offered condolences to its neighbour and said it would allow families with ties to the north to visit.

Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik said no official delegation will travel to Pyongyang, but the government would allow the families of prominent South Koreans - including those of former president Kim Dae-jung and former Hyundai Asan chairman Chung Mong-hun.

The Obama administration called for a peaceful and stable transition of power in North Korea.

Top national security officials are focusing intelligence on the internal politics of the reclusive communist nation.

President Obama conferred by phone with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to underscore the U.S. commitment in the region.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: 'We are deeply concerned with the well-being of the North Korean people and our thoughts and prayers are with them during these difficult times.

'It is our hope that the new leadership of the DPRK will choose to guide their nation on to the path of peace by honouring North Korea's commitments, improving relations with its neighbours, and respecting the rights of its people.'

Video: North Korea state TV footage



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