The world watched anxiously yesterday as North Korea staged a huge funeral in the capital, Pyongyang, for former leader Kim Jong-il, searching for signs of what to expect from the isolated nation that may be close to attaining nuclear weapons capacity.
Bleak pictures from state television showed a funeral cortege led by a limousine carrying a huge potrait of the 69-year-old, who died on Dec. 17, passing serried ranks of olive green-clad soldiers whose bare heads were bowed in homage in the main square of the snow-covered capital.
A hearse carrying the coffin was led by a weeping Kim Jong-un, the son and heir, accompanied by Jang Song-thaek, his uncle and a key powerbroker in the transition, and Ri Yong-ho, the army chief of staff.
“Seeing this white snow fall has made me think of the general’s efforts and this brings tears to my eyes,” Seo Ju-rim, a red-cheeked, weeping female soldier, told North Korean television, referring to the late Kim.
One of the myths surrounding Kim Jong-il was that he could control the weather and state media has reported unusually cold and wild weather accompanying his death.
Video showed weeping civilians who swayed with grief and shouted “father, father” as black Lincoln and Mercedes limousines and army trucks streamed past the crowds. It was not clear whether the pictures were live or recorded, although a state television announcer said it had been carried live.
“I wished it was a dream, how can this be true?” sobbed one middle-aged woman surnamed Kim. “How can anything like this ever happen in the world?”
At one stage, weeping women were held back by men, who linked arms to prevent them surging toward the cortege. The procession ended after about three hours with 21 guns fired in salute as the top leadership looked on from a podium.
Kim Jong-un will become the third member of the family to run the country as it enters a year that was supposed to mark its self-proclaimed transformation into a “strong and prosperous” nation.