Son escorts hearse carrying Kim Jong Il
PYONGYANG, North Korea—North Korea’s next leader escorted his father’s hearse in an elaborate state funeral on a bitter, snowy day today, bowing and saluting in front of tens of thousands of citizens who wailed and stamped their feet in grief for Kim Jong Il.
Son and successor Kim Jong Un was head mourner on the grey day in Pyongyang, walking with one hand on the black hearse that carried his father’s coffin on its roof, his other hand raised in salute, his head bowed against the wind.
Kim then saluted again as goose-stepping soldiers carrying flags and rifles marched by.
Although analysts say Kim Jong Un is on the path towards cementing his power, and all moves in North Korea so far—from titles giving him power over the ruling party and military and his leading position in the funeral procession—point in that direction, his age and inexperience leave questions about Kim’s long-term prospects.
Whereas his father was groomed for power for 20 years before taking over, the younger Kim has had only about two years.
He also faces the huge challenges of running a country that struggles to feed its people even as it pursues a nuclear weapons program that has earned it international sanctions and condemnation.
Kim Jong Il—who led with absolute power after his father Kim Il Sung’s death in 1994, through a famine that killed hundreds of thousands and the pursuit of nuclear and missile programs—died of a heart attack Dec. 17 at age 69.
Mourners in parkas lined the streets of Pyongyang waving, stamping, and crying as the convoy bearing his coffin passed. Some struggled to get past security personnel holding back the crowd.
“How can the sky not cry?” a weeping soldier standing in the snow said to state TV.
“The people . . . are all crying tears of blood.”
The dramatic scenes of grief showed how effectively North Korea built a personality cult around Kim Jong Il despite chronic food shortages and decades of economic hardship.
A large challenge for North Korea’s propaganda apparatus will be “to counter the public’s perception that the new leader is a spoiled child of privilege,” said Brian Myers, an expert on North Korean propaganda at Dongseo University in Busan, South Korea.
“Having Kim Jong Un trudge mournfully next to the hearse in terrible weather was a very clever move,” he said.
Even as North Koreans mourned the loss of the second leader the nation has known, the transition of power to Kim Jong Un was well underway.
The young man, who is in his late 20s, already is being hailed by state media as the “supreme leader” of the party, state, and army. North Korea now turns to tomorrow’s memorial ceremony. Although there will be tributes to Kim Jong Il, the country will be turning towards Kim Jong Un, analysts said.
“The message will be clear: Kim Jong Un now leads the country and there is no alternative,” said Kim Yeon-su, a North Korea expert at the state-run Korea National Defence University in South Korea.