- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 20, 2011

PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA (AP) | North Korea’s anointed heir Kim Jong-un led a solemn procession of mourners Tuesday to the glass coffin of his father, the country’s longtime ruler - a strong indication that a smooth leadership transition was under way in the country known for secrecy and unpredictability.

Weeping members of North Korea’s elite filed past the body of Kim Jong-il, which was draped in a red cloth and surrounded by stony-faced honor guards and dozens of red and white flowers.

State media fed a budding personality cult around his youngest known son, hailing him as a “lighthouse of hope” as the country was awash in a “sea of tears and grief.”

In a dreamlike scene captured by Associated Press Television News, Mr. Kim’s coffin appeared to float on a raft of “kimjongilia” - the flowers named after him - with his head and shoulders bathed in a spotlight as solemn music played. Various medals and honors were displayed at his feet.

The bier was located in a hall of the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, a mausoleum where the embalmed body of Kim Jong-il’s father and North Korean founder Kim Il-sung has been on view in a glass sarcophagus since his death in 1994.

Kim Jong-il’s 27-year-old son and heir, Kim Jong-un, wore a black Mao-style suit, his hair cropped closely on the sides but longer on top, as he walked with much older officials in suits and military uniforms.

Stepping away from the group, Kim Jong-un bowed deeply, his expression serious, before circling the bier with other officials.

The announcement Monday of Mr. Kim’s death over the weekend raised acute worries in the region over the possibility of a power struggle between the untested son and rivals in an impoverished and reclusive country with a nuclear program.

But there have been no signs of unrest or discord in Pyongyang.

With the country in an 11-day period of official mourning, flags were at half-staff at all military units, factories, businesses, farms and public buildings. The streets of Pyongyang were quiet, but throngs gathered at landmarks honoring Mr. Kim.

Outside one of the capital’s main performance centers, mourners carried wreaths and flowers toward a portrait of Mr. Kim. Groups were allowed to grieve in front of the portrait for a few minutes at a time.

A state funeral is set for Dec. 28 in Pyongyang, to be followed by a national memorial service the next day, according to state media.

North Korean officials say they will not invite foreign delegations and will allow no entertainment during the mourning period.

Concerns remain over the transition.

South Korea put its military on high alert, and experts warned that the next few days could be a crucial turning point for the North, which though impoverished by economic mismanagement and repeated famine, has a relatively well-supported, 1.2 million member armed forces.