North Korea's farewell: 'The people are all crying tears of blood'


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The Independent Online

Grim-faced soldiers in fur hats and green uniforms wept along with bystanders wrapped against the cold in Pyongyang yesterday as a procession of jeeps and cars brought the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il, to his final resting place.

"The people are all crying tears of blood," one soldier among the tens of thousands of mourners lining the boulevard in the North Korean capital told the state broadcaster KRT, underlining the cult of personality built around the late dictator.

Within the crowd, there were close-ups of particularly upset people wiping away their tears, blowing their noses and in some cases shaking in sorrow. This was weeping as an act of political will, a collective wailing that was both eerie and disturbing. The only sound you could hear on the broadcast was of frantic weeping.

The most prominent mourner was Kim Jong-il's son, Kim Jong-un, who escorted the hearse, one hand on the bonnet, bowing his head with its severe, short back-and-sides haircut so reminiscent of his grandfather, the Great Leader Kim Il-sung who founded this political dynasty.

Kim Jong-un has been groomed for power. He was made a four-star general and appointed a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers' Party last year.

A car bearing a giant portrait of Kim Jong-il passed through the streets as a black limousine, which looked like a US Lincoln car, carried the body of the Dear Leader on his final journey.

Kim Jong-il took over after the death of his father Kim Il-sung in 1994. He oversaw a famine that killed hundreds of thousands and built up North Korea's nuclear weapons programme before his death by heart attack on 17 December 17 aged 69.

The snow gave the funeral a powerful Cold War aspect, reminiscent of the military marches in Moscow or East Berlin. The strong military tone shows the importance of the army in the running of North Korea, but it could also suggest that Kim Jong-un has secured the backing of the generals to take over from his father.

At the end of the two-and-a-half- hour procession, rifles were fired 21 times as Kim Jong-un stood with senior military figures. His elder brothers, Kim Jong-nam and Kim Jong-chol, were not present. This was about Kim Jong-un assuming the helm.

And amid the ceremony, there were clues about the new leadership. One figure in focus was Jang Song -thaek, Kim Jong-il's brother-in-law and a vice chairman of the powerful National Defence Commission. He is expected to oversee the early days of Kim Jong-un's succession. "This funeral is an important window, because we can tell from the funeral arrangements who will be the future leaders and who will be key in the leadership structure," Cheng Xiaohe, vice professor of the school of international studies at Renmin University in Beijing, said. "Kim Jong-un's future leadership is not secure, and his main job is to strengthen his power."