North Korea prepares huge send-off for late leader
North Korea was Tuesday preparing a massive ceremonial farewell to late leader Kim Jong-Il as it strove to strengthen a new personality cult around his youthful son and successor Jong-Un.
The secretive state has so far given no details of Wednesday’s funeral for its “Dear Leader” of the past 17 years and has not invited foreign delegations to the ceremony.
But analysts say the regime, as it did in 1994 when Kim Jong-Il’s own father died, will use the event to shore up loyalty to the new leader and will likely mobilise hundreds of thousands of people.
The untested Jong-Un, aged only in his late 20s, has been thrust into the world spotlight since his father died suddenly on December 17 aged 69.
Official media has added several titles to his flimsy CV, declaring him “great successor”, supreme commander of the world’s fourth-largest military and head of the ruling party’s powerful Central Committee.
The son, who has not yet been formally appointed to the party and military posts, has been the central figure in scenes of mourning at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, where his father lies in state in a glass coffin.
On Monday he met the leaders of two South Korean delegations at the palace, expressing thanks for their presence.
While Kim Jong-Il had 20 years to prepare for the communist world’s only dynastic succession, Jong-Un has had barely three. Analysts will closely watch the funeral for clues about who will most influence him.
South Korean media, basing predictions on arrangements for the 1994 funeral, said the obsequies would likely begin at 10:00 am (0100 GMT) Wednesday, with Jong-Un and senior officials paying final respects at the memorial palace.
They said the military was expected to fire a 24-gun salute and troops would march through central Pyongyang, accompanying a limousine carrying Kim’s coffin and another car with a giant photo.
Military marching bands would play funeral music while convoys of motorcycles and cars carrying flowers and senior officials would follow the coffin as hundreds of thousands looked on, the media forecast.
Mourning will officially end Thursday with a nationwide memorial service including a three-minute silence at noon.
“Mourning shots will be fired in Pyongyang (Thursday) and all provincial units across the country, and three minutes of silence will be observed by people across the country,” the North’s official news agency said, although it gave no information regarding the funeral itself.
Trains, ships and other vehicles or machinery would sound their hooters.
State media reported more grieving by Mother Nature for Kim, with a dove-like bird brushing the snow off a statue of the late leader and owls weeping daily since his death.
Last week official media reported the case of a Manchurian crane that bowed its head in grief, and said ice cracked around Kim’s supposed birthplace at the revered Mount Paekdu with a thunderous sound.
Under Kim Jong-Il the North tested long-range missiles and two atomic weapons, earning international sanctions.
Diplomatic efforts to revive stalled six-nation nuclear disarmament talks had seemed to be making headway before his death.
The South’s nuclear envoy will visit the United States this week to discuss ways to resume the dialogue and the aftermath of Kim’s death, Seoul’s foreign ministry said.
Lim Sung-Nam was to meet Glyn Davies, the US special representative on North Korea policy.
South Korea, which has remained technically at war with the North for six decades, has responded cautiously to the developments in its neighbour, which it blames for two deadly border incidents last year.
Unlike in 1994, the Seoul government expressed sympathy to the North’s people and made other conciliatory gestures.
But it authorised mourning visits to Pyongyang by just the two South Korean delegations, a restriction that the North termed “inhuman”.
Lee Hee-Ho, widow of late South Korean president Kim Dae-Jung, and Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jung-Eun paid respects Monday to the late leader and expressed condolences to Jong-Un.
Kim Dae-Jung and Kim Jong-Il held the first-ever inter-Korean summit in 2000 and Hyundai pioneered cross-border business projects.
On Tuesday the South Koreans met the North’s de facto head of state and parliament chief Kim Yong-Nam before crossing back across the heavily fortified border.
A spokesman for Lee said they received “warm and respectful treatment” and delegation chiefs talked to Jong-Un for about 10 minutes.
“Lee expressed words of condolences and Kim Jong-Un thanked her for coming all this way,” the spokesman said.