North Korea was yesterday 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, Kim Jong-un.
The secretive state has so far given no details whatsoever of today’s funeral for its “Dear Leader” of the past 17 years.
However, analysts say the regime, as it did in 1994 when Kim Jong-il’s own father died, would use the event to shore up loyalty to the new leader and will likely mobilize hundreds of thousands of people.
The untested Kim Jong-un, aged only in his late 20s, has been thrust into the world spotlight since his father died suddenly on Dec. 17 aged 69.
Official media have 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 “deep gratitude” for their presence, according to official media.
South Korea, which has remained technically at war with the North for six decades, has responded cautiously to the shake-up in its nuclear-armed neighbor.
Unlike in 1994, Seoul expressed sympathy to the North’s people and made other conciliatory gestures.
However, it authorized mourning visits to Pyongyang by just the two South Korean delegations, a restriction that the North termed “inhuman.”
Lee Hee-ho, widow of former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung, and Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jung-eun paid respects on Monday to the late leader and expressed condolences to Kim 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.
While Kim Jong-il had 20 years to prepare for the communist world’s only dynastic succession, Kim Jong-un has had barely three. Analysts will closely watch the funeral for possible clues about who will have most influence with him.
Kim Jong-un, “great successor to the juche [self-reliance] revolutionary cause and sagacious leader of our party, state, army and people, is at the helm of the Korean revolution,” the North’s news agency reported early yesterday.
South Korean media, basing their predictions on arrangements for the 1994 funeral, said the obsequies would likely begin at 10am today, with Kim 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 Jong-il’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 look on, the media forecast.
Mourning would officially end tomorrow with a nationwide memorial service including a three-minute silence, the North’s media has reported.
Yesterday, the South Korean delegations, who were to return later today across the heavily fortified border, met the North’s de facto head of state and parliament chief Kim Yong-nam, state media reported.