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Signs of struggle over Kim's coffin: South Korean police clash with students

NORTH KOREA announced yesterday that the funeral of Kim Il Sung would be delayed for two days until Tuesday, in another mysterious twist to the death of its Great Leader that prompted speculation of a power struggle over his succession.

Students in Seoul continued to protest against the official ban on their travelling north to the funeral, and the government called an emergency security meeting to discuss the implications of the delay. Few missed the irony of a postponement in the obsequies to a man who, for the 46 years he was in power, tolerated no hiccups and demanded absolute loyalty and unquestioning dedication from his subjects.

Pyongyang radio has already announced that Kim Jong Il, the 52-year-old son of Kim Il Sung, is poised to take over his father's mantle. North Korea's official news agency said yesterday the funeral was being delayed because of the increasing number of mourners.

But there are lingering suspicions that the younger Kim does not enjoy the full support of the army. He is also thought to face opposition from his stepmother, Kim Song Ae. Some analysts have pointed out that she has apparently been edited out of the last couple of days of North Korean television footage of the mourning ceremonies for her late husband.

'Postponement of the funeral of a leader is unusual in a socialist country,' said an official of the South-North Dialogue Office in Seoul. 'We think the postponement is due to internal necessity to ensure Kim Jong Il's succession, by using the mourning atmosphere.'

Kim Il Sung died on 8 July, and since then rallies with crowds whipped up to mass hysteria have been held all over the country. North Korean television has shown pictures of buses in which all the passengers are wailing uncontrollably, including the driver, until they manage to stand up and sing a revolutionary song 'to convert their sorrow to strength', as urged by Kim Jong Il.

Police in South Korea are continuing their crackdown on students mourning the North Korean leader, and made 30 arrests at the university in Sunchon in the south-west yesterday. In Seoul, where a thousand students fought riot police with petrol bombs and iron pipes on Thursday and more than 50 arrests were made, pro- Kim Il Sung posters have disappeared from campuses.

But students on the campus of Yonsei University yesterday were bitterly critical of the government's ban. The Seoul government has forbidden South Koreans to take up an open offer from North Korea last week to travel north and offer condolences because of fears that Pyongyang would exploit such visits for propaganda purposes.

'South Korea sent a delegation to the funeral of the Japanese emperor, so why not to Pyongyang?' said one student in the basement of Yonsei's student union building. Emperor Hirohito, who died in 1989, presided over most of the period between 1910 and 1945, when Japan subjected Korea to brutal colonisation, and anti-Japanese feeling is still high.

Much of Kim Il Sung's stature is based on his (much-embellished) anti-Japanese guerrilla activities in the 1930s and 1940s, which appeal to all Koreans. He is also admired for 'standing up to' the US, which maintains troops in the South.

'We cannot forgive Kim Il Sung for the terrible things he did in the past,' said another Yonsei student. 'But it is better to look to the future.' He said the Seoul government should try to build bridges with the isolated regime in the North.

The 'terrible things' done by the man now lying in a glass coffin under a purple light in the Presidential Palace in Pyongyang are not inconsiderable. After starting the Korean war in 1950, which left 2.5 million dead and divided the country, Kim Il Sung maintained a rabid hatred of the South and its allies, impoverished his own people, and sanctioned terrorist missions against South Korean targets.

Kim Hyun Hee, the North Korean spy who planted the bomb on the Korean jet that exploded over the Indian Ocean in 1987, killing all 115 on board, experienced the brainwashing of the North at first hand. She confessed to the bombing, was sentenced to death, and then pardoned by President Roh Tae Woo, who declared Kim Il Sung the real culprit for the outrage.

Ms Kim has now written a book, The Tears of My Soul, describing her training as a North Korean spy and her bombing mission. 'Kim Il Sung and his family have done nothing less than rape the North Korean people,' she writes at the end, after describing her confession and 'repentance'. 'It is a tragedy of truly epic proportions.'

(Photograph omitted)

Mourning dictators, page 16