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NKorea unveils Kim Jong-il's embalmed body

Dec 17, 2012 16:49 IST

#Kim Jong-il   #Kim Jong-un   #NewsTracker   #North Korea  

Pyongyang, North Korea: North Korea unveiled the embalmed body of Kim Jong-il, still in his trademark khaki jumpsuit, on the anniversary of his death on Monday as mourning mixed with pride over a recent satellite launch that was a long-held goal of the late authoritarian leader.

Kim lies in state a few floors below his father, national founder Kim Il Sung, in the Kumsusan mausoleum, the cavernous former presidential palace. Kim Jong Il is presented lying beneath a red blanket, a spotlight shining on his face in a room suffused in red.

Kim Jong-un and his wife Ri Sol Ju attend a ceremony to reopen the mausoleum where Kim Jong-il's embalmed remains will lie in state. AP

Wails echoed through the chilly hall as a group of North Korean women sobbed into the sashes of their traditional Korean dresses as they bowed before his body. The hall bearing the glass coffin was opened to select visitors — including The Associated Press — for the first time since his death.

North Korea also unveiled Kim's yacht and his armored train carriage, where he is said to have died. Among the personal belongings featured in the mausoleum are the parka, sunglasses and pointy platform shoes he famously wore in the last decades of his life. A MacBook Pro lay open on his desk.

North Koreans paid homage to Kim and basked in the success of last week's launch of a long-range rocket that sent a satellite named after him to space.

The launch, condemned in many other capitals as a violation of bans against developing its missile technology, was portrayed not only as a gift to Kim Jong Il but also as proof that his young son, Kim Jong Un, has the strength and vision to lead the country.

The elder Kim died last 17 December from a heart attack while traveling on his train. His death was famously followed by scenes of North Koreans dramatically wailing in the streets of Pyongyang, and of the 20-something son leading ranks of uniformed and gray-haired officials through funeral and mourning rites.

The mood in the capital was decidedly more upbeat a year later, with some of the euphoria carrying over from last Wednesday's launch. The satellite bears one of Kim Jong Il's nicknames, Kwangmyongsong, or "Lode Star," a moniker given to him at birth according to the official lore.

North Koreans across the country stopped in their tracks at midday to bow their heads and honor the former ruler as the national flag fluttered at half-staff along streets and from buildings.

Pyongyang construction workers took off their yellow hard hats and bowed at the waist as sirens wailed across the city for three minutes. Earlier, Kim Jong Un attended a solemn ceremony to reopen the sprawling granite mausoleum where his father and his grandfather lie in state in separate halls.

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.

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 United Nations ban on North Korean missile activity, underlined Kim Jong Un's determination to continue carrying out his father's hardline 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 improving 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 also follows tradition. Kumsusan, the palace where his father, Kim Il Sung, served as president, was reopened as a mausoleum on the first anniversary of his death in 1994.

AP

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