Tens of thousands of North Koreans gathered in the frigid plaza outside, newly transformed into a public park with lawns and pergolas. Geese flew past snow-tinged firs, and swans dallied in the partly frozen moat that rings the vast complex in Pyongyang’s outskirts.
“Just when we were thinking how best to uphold our general, he passed away,” Kim Jong-ran said at the plaza. “But we upheld leader Kim Jong-un. … We regained our strength, and we are filled with determination to work harder for our country.”
Speaking outside the mausoleum, renamed the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, the military’s top political officer, Choe Ryong-hae, said North Korea should be proud of the satellite, calling it “a political event with great significance in the history of Korea and humanity.”
Much of the rest of the world, however, was swift in condemning the launch, which was seen by the United States and other nations as a thinly disguised cover for testing missile technology that could someday be used for a nuclear warhead.
The test, which potentially violates a U.N. ban on North Korean missile activity, underlined Kim Jong-un’s determination to continue carrying out his father’s hard-line policies even if they draw international condemnation.
Some outside experts worry that Pyongyang’s next move will be to press ahead with a nuclear test in the coming weeks, a step toward building a warhead small enough to be carried by a long-range missile.
Despite inviting further isolation for his impoverished nation and the threat of stiffer sanctions, Kim Jong-un won national prestige and clout by going ahead with the rocket launch.
At a memorial service on Sunday, North Korea’s top leadership not only eulogized Kim Jong-il, but also praised his son. Kim Yong-nam, president of the Presidium of North Korea’s parliament, called the launch a “shining victory” and an emblem of the promise that lies ahead with Kim Jong-un in power.
The rocket’s success also fits neatly into the narrative of Kim Jong-il’s death. Even before he died, the father had laid the groundwork for his son to inherit a government focused on science, technology and the improvement of the economy. And his pursuit of nuclear weapons and the policy of putting the military ahead of all other national concerns have also carried into Kim Jong-un’s reign.
In a sign of the rocket launch’s importance, Kim Jong-un invited the scientists in charge of it to attend the mourning rites in Pyongyang, according to state media.
The reopening of the mausoleum on the anniversary of the leader’s death follows tradition. Kumsusan, the palace where his father, Kim Il-sung, served as president, was reopened as a mausoleum on the anniversary of his death in 1994.
Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim contributed to this report from Seoul.