Snowy weather delays funeral

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Snowy weather delays funeral

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A huge portrait of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, left, is carried during his funeral procession in snowy Pyongyang yesterday. North Korean soldiers, right, cry during the funeral. [AP/YONHAP]


Tens of thousands of North Korean people said their emotional goodbyes to “dear leader” Kim Jong-il at an hours-long funeral march through Pyongyang’s snowy, chilly streets.

Wailing female soldiers, mournful funeral music and a parade of goose-stepping soldiers filled the outdoor funeral space yesterday. The ceremony started in the large square in front of the Kumsusan Memorial Palace where the body had been displayed in a glass coffin. It was televised by the North’s official station, Korean Central Television.

The funeral was supposed to begin at 10 a.m., but sources said it was delayed until 2 p.m. due to heavy snow falls along the mourning route. Analysts assumed that North Korean officials tried to clean snow off the streets for the large-scale parade.

Hundreds of generals and soldiers in full military uniform assembled in the square to pay their silent respects to their 69-year-old leader, who died of a heart attack on Dec. 17.

When the procession was ready to begin, a black limousine draped with miniature flags entered the plaza amid heavy snow, carrying a coffin on its roof.

Heir Kim Jong-un, dressed in a black coat, appeared, placing his left hand on the limo, which began moving at a slow speed on the icy ground. Eight top-military officials and politicians also guarded the hearse, including his influential uncle, Jang Song-thaek; Ri Yong-ho, chief of the general staff of the army; Kim Yong-chun, minister of the People’s Armed Forces; and Kim Jong-gak, first deputy director of the General Political Bureau.

None of the successor’s elder brothers or other family members could be found in the footage coming from the North. Analysts speculate that the eight figures surrounding the hearse will be the next inner circle of North Korea’s power.

Troops maintained their watch and some shed tears as Kim and the limo left the square. A fleet of black Mercedes-Benzes and white Volkswagens followed the parade route, along with open-air Jeeps carrying standing soldiers and raised flags. Sources say the late leader Kim was a Benz-lover.

“Dear viewers,” said a KCTV announcer during the broadcast, “we are now solemnly carrying out the funeral of our dear leader Kim Jong-il in the revolutionary capital, Pyongyang.”

“We now have a national tragedy and how can the sky stop its crying?” a middle-aged male soldier told KCTV.

A weeping female soldier also said, “This falling snow even reminds me of leader Kim. I can’t stop my eyes from shedding tears.”

After the parade exited the square, a camera shot showed Yongung Street packed with residents to bid farewell. Bitterly weeping women wildly waved their hands toward the coffin shouting, “Please, come back,” and middle-aged men grabbed their chests in intense displays of grief. Kim Jong-un apparently rode in one of the cars, as no one in the parade walked once they were out of the square.

The funeral procession took the same route as the founder’s funeral in 1994, a 40-kilometer (25-mile) path along Kumsong Street, Tongil Street and circling Kim Il Sung Plaza.

However, Kim Gwang-jin, a defector-turned-researcher, found in the footage differences in people’s responses from those when the founder died in 1994.

“The faces of people are quite different from those in 1994,” Kim told the JoongAng Ilbo. “After the hearse passed them by, mourners standing in the front row were crying but those behind didn’t show any reaction. I saw a person putting his hands in his pockets. Those standing at the back of the crowd were dispersing after the cars left. Although the weather was bad, that kind of response was unimaginable for the founder’s 1994 funeral.”

Analysts in the South indicated that the junior Kim’s funeral was different from his father’s in two main ways: North Korea’s official news agency, radio and TV stations all reported the event live to the world, and heir Kim Jong-un appeared on a cold wintry day and led the hearse.

In 1994, North Korea recorded the funeral at 10 a.m. and then released the footage at around 3 p.m. They believed those worldwide broadcasts would consolidate internal power, rather than attract the world’s attention. North Korea also didn’t fire a salute as they did in 1994, they pointed out.

After it returned to the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, Kim’s body was expected to be embalmed, led by a group of Russian specialists who will remove all the internal organs, and replace the blood with embalming fluid. Maintaining the founder’s embalmed body costs multiple millions of won annually.


By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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