- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 20, 2011

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea displayed the body of ruler KimJong-il in a glass coffin surrounded by red flowers Tuesday, and his young heir was one of the first to pay respects — a strong indication that a smooth leadership transition was under way.

As the country mourned for a second day with high-level visits to Mr. Kim‘s body at a memorial palace and public gatherings of weeping citizens, state media fed a budding personality cult around his youngest known son and anointed heir, Kim Jong-un, hailing him as a “lighthouse of hope.”

AP video footage shot in the capital, Pyongyang, showed the glass coffin holding Mr. Kim‘s body, wrapped in red cloth and surrounded by blossoms of his namesake flowers, red “kimjongilia.”

As solemn music played, Kim Jong-un — believed to be in his late 20s — entered the hall to view his father’s bier, surrounded by military honor guards. He observed a moment of solemn silence, then circled the bier, followed by other officials.

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

“We will change today’s sorrow into strength and courage and work harder for a powerful and prosperous nation, as our general wanted, under the leadership of the new General Kim Jong-un,” U Son-hui, a Pyongyang resident, told the Associated Press.

The announcement Monday of Mr. Kim‘s death over the weekend raised acute concerns in the region over the possibility of a power struggle between the untested son and rivals, in a country pursuing nuclear weapons and known for its unpredictability and secrecy.

But there have been no signs of unrest or discord in Pyongyang’s somber streets.

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

The AP footage showed Mr. Kim‘s bier decorated by a wreath from Kim Jong-un along with various medals and orders.

The body was laid out in the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, a mausoleum where the embalmed body of Kim Jong-il‘s father, national founder KimIl-sung, has been on display in a glass sarcophagus since his death in 1994.

KimJong-il died of a massive heart attack on Saturday caused by overwork and stress, according to the North’s media. He was 69, though some experts question the official accounts of his birth date and location.

The two-day state funeral is to begin at the Kamsusan Memorial Palace on Dec. 28. North Korean officials say they will not invite foreign delegations and will allow no entertainment during the mourning period.

Since Mr. Kim‘s death the media have stepped up their lavish praise of the son, indicating an effort to strengthen a cult of personality around him similar to that of his father and — much more strongly — of KimIl-sung.

The official Korean Central News Agency on Tuesday described Kim Jong-un as “a great person born of heaven,” a propaganda term previously used only for his father and grandfather. The Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the ruling Workers’ Party, added in an editorial that Kim Jong-un is “the spiritual pillar and the lighthouse of hope” for the military and the people.

It described the 20-something Mr. Kim as “born of Mount Paektu,” one of Korea’s most cherished sites and KimJong-il’s official birthplace. On Monday, the North said in a dispatch that the people and the military “have pledged to uphold the leadership of comrade Kim Jong-un” and called him a “great successor” of the country’s revolutionary philosophy of “juche,” or self-reliance.

Young Koreans, the North reported, “are burning with the faith and will to remain loyal to Kim Jong-un.”

But concerns remain over whether the transition will be a smooth one.

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-strong military.

South Korea offered condolences to the North Korean people, but the government said no official delegation will be traveling from Seoul to Pyongyang to pay their respects.

Mr. Kim‘s death could set back efforts by the United States and others to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions. Concerns are also high that Kim Jong-un, being young and largely untested, may feel he needs to prove himself by precipitating a crisis or displaying his swagger on the international stage.

KimJong-il was in power for 17 years after the death of his father and was groomed for power for years before that. Kim Jong-un only emerged as the likely heir over the past year.

North Korea conducted at least one short-range missile test Monday, South Korean officials said, but they saw it as a routine drill.

“The sudden death of KimJong-il has plunged the isolated state of North Korea into a period of major uncertainty. There are real concerns that heir-apparent Kim Jong-un has not had sufficient time to form the necessary alliances in the country to consolidate his future as leader of the country,” said Sarah McDowall, a senior analyst with U.S.-based consultants IHS.

Some analysts, however, said Mr. Kim‘s death was unlikely to plunge the country into chaos because it already was preparing for a transition. KimJong-il indicated a year ago that Kim Jong-un would be his successor, putting him in high-ranking posts.

Associated Press writers Jean H. Lee in Beijing; Foster Klug, Hyung-jin Kim, Sam Kim, Eric Talmadge and Jiyoung Won in Seoul; and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this story.



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