World Watches As North Korea Bids Farewell to Kim Jong Il

Posted December 28th, 2011 at 8:05 pm (UTC-5)
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Observers worldwide watched television images of Kim Jong Il's funeral procession Wednesday for clues of who holds the real power after his death.

Mr. Kim's youngest son and heir apparent, Kim Jong Un, clearly had a central role in the ceremony. He walked alongside a black limousine carrying his father's hearse through central Pyongyang, and was at the center of the group attending the red flag-draped coffin at the square of the Kumsusan Memorial Palace.

Since Kim Jong Il's death, North Korean state-run media have called Kim Jong Un the “great successor” and the supreme leader of the ruling Worker's Party, the state and the army, even though he has not been appointed officially to any of those positions.

Walking behind him during the funeral procession were Mr. Kim's influential uncle Jang Song Thaek, senior party officials Kim Ki Nam and Choe Thae Bok, military chief Ri Yong Ho, armed forces minister Kim Yong Chun and senior military officer Kim Jong Gak. Their presence suggests that they will have a role in North Korea's leadership.

Thousands of weeping and wailing North Koreans lined the snow-covered procession route.

Mourning will officially end Thursday with a nationwide memorial service at noon, including a three-minute period of silence. Trains, ships and other vehicles will sound their horns.

Foreign governments are watching events in Pyongyang closely because of concerns about the young Mr. Kim's rise in a country with a nuclear program, a large army and a history of deep animosity toward its neighbors.

A spokesman for the U.S. State Department, Mark Toner, said at a press briefing Wednesday that the funeral procession was obviously an emotional moment for North Koreans. In terms of North Korea's future leadership, he said Pyongyang has made some statements to clarify it, but that “we'll wait and see” what else emerges in the coming days and weeks. He said there is little insight into the country that has a “pretty opaque” political system.