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Rocket is still the centerpiece as North Koreans mourn former leader Kim Jong-il
The mood in North Korea has been subdued this month in the run-up to the anniversary. However, news of the launch cheered people, and the regime held a mass rally on Friday at the main plaza in Pyongyang.
Starting Saturday, North Koreans began streaming to a bronze statue of Kim Jon-il on Mansu Hill and to Kim Il-sung Square to pay their respects, many laying white mourning flowers and bowing before his image.
On Sunday, a solemn Kim Jong-un joined the memorial service at the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium on the eve of the anniversary of his father’s death.
Mr. Kim, whose entrances and exits usually are accompanied by a triumphant welcome song and a swell of cheers, entered the stage in silence, followed by top Workers’ Party, government and Korean People’s Army officials, as well as his aunt and uncle.
A military band played the militaristic “Song of Gen. Kim Jong-il” as officials and the audience bowed toward the massive portrait of Kim hung above the stage.
Tight security surrounded the gymnasium near Pyongyang’s Pothong Gate. Armed soldiers in helmets posted along the street outside diverted traffic and pedestrians while more guarded every entrance to the building. The handful of foreign journalists allowed to cover the event, including The Associated Press, were searched by armed soldiers.
In his speech, Kim Yong-nam called Kim Jong-il a “peerless patriot” who strengthened the military and stood up to the United States.
The U.S. and North Korea signed a truce, not a peace treaty, at the close of the 1950-53 Korean War, and Pyongyang cites American troops in South Korea as a key reason for building its atomic weapons program.
As the hourlong ceremony came to a close, the band briefly played the mournful refrain to “The General Will Always Be With Us.” After the musicians put down their instruments, Kim Jong-un stood up and led a silent procession out.
AP writer Hyung-jin Kim contributed to this report from Seoul.
By Brahma Chellaney
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