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North Korea bids wintry farewell to late leader

North Korea Wednesday laid to rest its late leader Kim Jong-Il in an elaborate show of communist pomp as his youthful son and successor escorted the funeral cortege through a snowbound Pyongyang.

world Updated: Dec 28, 2011 11:22 IST

North Korea Wednesday laid to rest its late leader Kim Jong-Il in an elaborate show of communist pomp as his youthful son and successor escorted the funeral cortege through a snowbound Pyongyang.

Tens of thousands of troops bowed their heads in the snow outside the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, where the late strongman's body had lain in state in a glass coffin, as heir Kim Jong-Un led the cortege, state television showed.

A limousine bearing a huge portrait of a smiling Kim Jong-Il was at the front of the funeral convoy, which began moving slowly from the palace in Pyongyang on icy roads.

Jong-Un was dressed in black, bare-headed and gloveless despite the cold, holding to the side of his father's hearse. He was accompanied by top military and civilian officials -- including his influential uncle Jang Song-Thaek.

State television earlier broadcast undated scenes of mass grief at the memorial palace, with Kim Jong-Un consoling mourners and bowing deeply to his father's coffin. Thousands of citizens were expected to line the streets.

Amid mourning music, the TV also carried file footage on the life of the "Dear Leader", who held absolute power for 17 years in the nuclear-armed nation and presided over a famine that killed hundreds of thousands.

"The people bid farewell to father General in great sorrow," said the main headline in ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun.

"The most heartbreaking time has come, when we cannot but bid farewell to the great father everyone in this land had followed with their hearts and souls."

Millions of servicemen and civilians were "firmly determined to become the guns and bombs to protect our dear comrade Kim Jong-Un and the warriors to realise his ideals and intentions".

Kim gave North Korea dignity as a country "that manufactured and launched artificial satellites and accessed nukes", its editorial said.

Since the elder Kim died of a heart attack on December 17 aged 69, the North's propaganda machine has been heaping tributes on both him and Jong-Un.

Official media has declared Jong-Un the "great successor", supreme military commander and Central Committee chief of the ruling Workers' Party, although he has not yet been formally appointed to the party and military posts.

The news agency, in a report earlier Wednesday, referred to Jong-Un as "supreme leader of the Workers' Party of Korea and the Korean people".

Analysts expected Wednesday's funeral to largely be a re-run of the 1994 obsequies 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."

The untested new leader, only in his late 20s, has been the central figure in scenes of intense grief at the memorial palace. Jong-Un's presence on Wednesday was in contrast to 1994, when Kim Jong-Il was absent from the funeral motorcade for his late father.

Mourning will officially end on Thursday with a nationwide memorial service including a three-minute silence. Trains, ships and other vehicles will sound their hooters.

Kim senior presided over a devastating famine in the 1990s and a collapsing economy. But he pressed on with missile tests and a nuclear weapons programme which earned his nation international sanctions.

The South's Yonhap news agency quoted the head of Seoul's National Intelligence Service, Won Sei-Hoon, as telling lawmakers that the North appears likely to continue the policies of its late leader.

UN agencies have said six million people -- a quarter of the population -- still urgently need food aid.

The North has ordered its nationals working overseas to return home for the funeral and has imported truckloads of flowers from China, said South Korean newspaper the Korea JoongAng Daily.

First Published: Dec 28, 2011 11:19 IST