Throngs of North Koreans Mourn Death of “Dear Leader”

Posted December 21st, 2011 at 12:30 pm (UTC-5)
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Tens of thousands of North Korean mourners, many of them bearing white flowers, packed central Pyongyang Wednesday to grieve the death of Kim Jong Il.

Television footage showed masses of people packed into a central square in front of a huge portrait of Mr. Kim, who died Saturday. North Korean state media said millions of people have turned out to pay their respects at statues and portraits of the late “Dear Leader” since his death by heart attack was announced Monday. A state funeral is set for December 28.

In Beijing Wednesday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabo and other leaders visited the North Korean embassy to offer condolences. Chinese President Hu Jintao made a similar visit Tuesday, in what is seen as Beijing's effort to reassure Pyongyang of its continuing support.

Since the announcement of Mr. Kim's death, North Korean media outlets have heaped lavish praise on Mr. Kim's son and heir, Kim Jong Un. The Korean Central News Agency on Wednesday described the son as “a great person born of heaven.” Earlier in the week, the agency called him “the great successor” to the country's revolutionary philosophy of self-reliance.

Meanwhile, a delegation of South Korean lawmakers on Wednesday visited frontline troops at the Demilitarized Zone separating the two countries, which have remained technically at war since a 1953 armistice ended the Korean War.

Defense Committee chief Won You-cheol voiced confidence that the troops are at a high state of military readiness, as Seoul and a host of regional and Western governments study possible leadership scenarios in the secretive North.

“When I was briefed by the military here, I realized that our military was fully prepared. I felt confident after seeing our soldiers thoroughly maintaining military readiness in case of various situations.”

Despite the North's official pronouncements is support of Kim Jong Un, South Korean missionaries who work with North Korean defectors say many North Koreans have doubts about the untested 28-year-old's capacity to lead. Pastor Kim Seong-eun said he is hearing that concern in dally telephone talks with North Koreans living outside Pyongyang.

“Lots of them are suspicious about Kim Jong Un's leadership because he is too young. They said 'what the hell can a young boy do?'”

The missionary also said his contacts in the North have noticed heightened security along North Korea's lengthy border with China.