Mourners flock to see Kim Jong Il in state

 

The body of North Korea's long-time ruler Kim Jong Il was laid out in a memorial palace today as weeping mourners filled public plazas and state media fed a budding personality cult around his third son, hailing him as "born of heaven".

Indicating that the leadership transition in the world's only communist dynasty is on track, Kim Jong Un - Kim's youngest known son and successor - visited the body with top military and Workers' Party officials and held what state media called a "solemn ceremony" in the capital, Pyongyang, as the country mourned.

The Korean people were in "deep sorrow at the loss of the benevolent father of our nation", Ri Ho Il, a lecturer at the Korean Revolutionary History Museum, told The Associated Press in Pyongyang.

"He defended our people's happiness, carrying on his forced march both night and day."

Still images aired on state TV showed the glass coffin holding Kim's body surrounded by his namesake flowers - red "kimjongilia" blossoms. He was covered with a red blanket, his head placed on a white pillow.

The coffin was presented in a room of the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, a mausoleum where the embalmed body of his father - national founder Kim Il Sung - has been on display in a glass sarcophagus since his death in 1994.

Kim Jong Un entered the room to view his father as solemn music played, state media said. He observed a moment of silence, and then circled the bier, followed by other officials.

Kim Jong Il died of a massive heart attack on Saturday caused by overwork and stress, according to the North's media. He was 69 - though some experts question the official accounts of his birth date and location.

Although there were no signs of unrest or discord in Pyongyang's sombre streets, Kim's death and the possibility of a power struggle in a country pursuing nuclear weapons and known for its secrecy and unpredictability have heightened tensions in the region.

With the country in an 11-day period of official mourning, flags were flown at half-staff at all military units, factories, businesses, farms and public buildings. The streets of Pyongyang were quiet, but throngs of people gathered at landmarks honouring Kim, AP video footage from Pyongyang showed.

The state funeral is to be held at the Kamsusan Memorial Palace on December 28.

North Korean officials said they would not invite foreign delegations and no entertainment would be allowed during the mourning period.

North Korean state media have given clear indications that Kim Jong Un will succeed his father.

Since Kim's death they have stepped up their lavish praise of the son, indicating an effort to strengthen a cult of personality around him similar to that of his father and - much more strongly - of Kim Il Sung.

The Korean Central News Agency described Kim Jong Un today as "a great person born of heaven", a propaganda term previously used only for his father and grandfather.

The Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the ruling Workers' Party, added in an editorial that Kim Jong Un is "the spiritual pillar and the lighthouse of hope" for the military and the people.

It described the 20-something Kim as "born of Mount Paektu", one of Korea's most cherished sites and Kim Jong Il's official birthplace.

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