North Korea bids farewell to Kim Jong-il
North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un (center L) walking besides the convoy carrying the body of his father and late leader Kim Jong-Il at Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang (AFP Photo / North Korean TV)
North Korea held the first day of funeral ceremonies for its late leader Kim Jong-il, who died on December 17, leaving a great deal of uncertainty over the future of the communist state.A grieving crowd gathered outside the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in central Pyongyang, where “the Dear Leader’s” body has been lying in state in an open glass coffin.
It is believed that a heart attack could have caused his death. However, North Korean officials claim that Kim Jong-il died of “fatigue and over-work” while on a train journey.
The news of his demise was announced only after a two-day delay sending shock waves and sparking mass hysteria across the nation.
The leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea since 1994, he succeeded his father Kim Il-sung and maintained the policy of keeping his country closed to the world.
Local TV and radio announcers covering the event could not contain their emotions, their voices trembling as they spoke.
“Even the land, rivers, trees seem to shiver mourning at the sounds of bitter weeping of military and the people,” official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a statement.
Earlier on Wednesday, KCNA reported that many residents of Pyongyang, who had come to say goodbye to “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il, are so shocked by his death, they do not want to believe it. The citizens cried: “Dear General, do not leave us!” and begged “Please come back to us!” reported the agency.
Analysts expected Wednesday’s funeral to largely be a re-run of the 1994 laments for Kim Jong-il’s father and founding president Kim Il-sung – a ceremony designed to pay homage to the late leader and build loyalty to his dynastic successor.
“The regime used the 1994 funeral to strengthen public allegiance and loyalty to new leader Kim Jong-il,” Yang Moo-jin of Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies said. “His own funeral will be staged in a similar way.”
Mourning will officially end on Thursday with a nationwide memorial service including a three-minute silence. Trains, ships and other vehicles will sound their horns.
A group of South Koreans has been allowed to visit the North to pay tribute to Kim Jong-il. Among them was the widow of the former president Kim Dae-jung, who helped ease tensions between the nations, and Hyundai Group Chairperson Hyun Jeong-eun, whose late husband had ties to the North.
The group met with Kim Jong-il’s successor, his youngest son, Kim Jong-un.
His accession to power extends the Kim family rule over the isolated communist state into the third generation. State media have already dubbed him as a “great successor” and an “outstanding leader.”
The official Korean Central News Agency indicated that Kim Jong-un will continue his father’s “military-first” policy.
“As dear comrade Kim Jong Un, who is a sagacious leader of our party, state and military, is at the forefront of our revolutionary cause, the history of our father and general’s glorious military-first revolution will continue,” it said.
However it remains unclear where the young ruler will take the impoverished country.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, North Korean defectors in South Korea launched balloons toward the DPRK filled with 200,000 leaflets calling on the residents of the North to start an uprising. The balloons are equipped with special timers so that they burst precisely over the territory of the DPRK.
“Let’s fight against the dictatorship in third generation,” the leaflets read. Small posters have been attached to some of the balloons that read “Kim Jong-il, go to hell!” and “Kim Jong-un is doomed to fail.”
Neighboring countries in favor of maintaining status quo
Journalist Eric Margolis believes that young Kim Jong-un has been selected by the power circles in Pyongyang to be a de-jure ruler in order to avoid a power struggle.
“That would be a disaster for the North Koreans, which could result in the quick collapse of the state,” he told RT.
As North Korea has been following a “military-first” policy it seems unlikely that Kim Jong-un will undertake any major Western-style reforms as this would mean cutting spending on the military, he argues.
“The military is so powerful, it’s well-fed, it has all the prerequisites and good positions,” the journalist explains. “They will be a force against change rather than for.”
According to Margolis the entire region is interested in maintaining the status quo following Kim Jong-il’s death.
“Japan does not want to see a united Korea. South Korea is not so sure about that. Many North Koreans support the present communist regime and don’t want a change. And China is vitally interested in maintaining a friendly Korea that is protecting its northern flank in Manchuria,” he says. “So the idea of a united Korea scares as many people as the idea of a collapsing Korea does.”