North Koreans on Thursday are marking what would have been the 70th birthday of their late leader Kim Jong Il with emotional, but somewhat muted, festivities in a cold and windy Pyongyang.
Large groups of soldiers and civilians took turns somberly bowing in unison and leaving “kimjongilia” flowers named after the late leader at the base of his smiling portrait hanging in the capital's central Kim Il Sung Square.
State television showed images of his youngest son and successor, Kim Jong Un, paying respects to his father at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, where Kim's body has been on display since his death in December.
North Korea's ceremonial head of state praised Kim Jong Il's accomplishments in a eulogy Wednesday attended by hundreds of military and civilian officials. Kim Yong-nam asked the state's ruling party to unite under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, calling for North Koreans to protect him with their lives.
In South Korea, a group of activists, including defector Park Sang-hak, marked the anniversary by sending across the border balloons filled with leaflets decrying the authoritarian North Korean leadership.
“To commemorate Kim Jong Il's 70th birthday, his successor, Kim Jong Un, is forcing North Koreans to swear fidelity under the name of his father. We sent leaflets to North Korea to let people know the truth of the succession which is hypocritical and fake.”
The festivities on Thursday, which has been dubbed the “Day of the Shining Star,” cap off weeks of celebration honoring Kim Jong Il, as the country's leadership attempts to cement the Kim legacy.
North Korea on Tuesday unveiled a bronze statue of him riding a horse alongside his late father, Kim Il Sung. It also awarded him on Wednesday with the title Generalissimo, the same ranking held by his father. In recent weeks, commemorative stamps, medals and gold and silver coins have been released in his honor.
Since Kim's death, North Korea's powerful military and its political leaders appear to have rallied around his young son, brushing off suggestions that he is too young and inexperienced to lead the nuclear-armed communist country.