Weeping North Koreans’ farewell to dictator

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Tens of thousands of North Koreans have lined the snowy streets of Pyongyang, wailing and clutching their chests as a black hearse carrying late leader Kim Jong Il’s body wound its way through the capital for a final farewell.

The funeral procession from Kumsusan Memorial Palace, where Kim’s body had lain in state, was accompanied by top military and party officials.

His son and successor, Kim Jong Un, was the head mourner, walking with one hand on the hearse, the other raised in salute, his head bowed against the wind.

State media – which over the past week have called Kim Jong Un “great successor”, “supreme leader” and “sagacious leader” – made it clear that the family’s hold on power would extend to a third generation, declaring the country in the younger Kim’s “warm care”.

The funeral procession passed by huge crowds of mourners, most of them standing in the snow with their heads bare, many screaming and flailing their arms as soldiers struggled to keep them from spilling on to the road.

The procession was expected to head to the city’s main plaza, Kim Il Sung Square, where hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have been paying their respects over the past 10 days. Sobs and wails filled the air as mourners in the front rows stamped their feet and cried as the hearse passed by.

“How can the sky not cry?” a weeping soldier standing in the snow said to state TV. “The people are all crying tears of blood.”

Kim Jong Il, who led the nation with an iron fist following his father Kim Il Sung’s death in 1994, died of a heart attack December 17 at the age of 69.

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

Like his father’s in 1994, Kim Jong Il’s coffin was wrapped in a red flag. A limousine carrying a huge portrait of a smiling Kim led the procession, and soldiers followed the hearse and lined the streets. A national memorial service will take place at noon today.

The footage was accompanied by rousing military music.

North Korean state media said the memorial route was about 25 miles (40km) long, though top officials did not walk the entire route.

After the funeral, the young Kim is expected to cement his power by formally assuming command of the 1.2 million-strong military, and becoming general secretary of the Workers’ Party and chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission.

Kim Jong Il’s two other sons, Kim Jong Nam and Kim Jong Chol, have not been spotted.

Kim Jong Un made his public debut just last year with a promotion to four-star general and an appointment as vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party.

As they mourned his father with dramatic displays of grief, North Korea’s officials have pledged their loyalty to his son.

Workers’ Party spokesman Rodong Sinmun said: “Supreme leader of our party and people Kim Jong Un takes warm care of the people left by Kim Jong Il. Every moment of Kim Jong Un’s life is replete with loving care and solicitude for the people.”