Amid NKorea mourning, vows to support new leader

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Author: AP

Friday 23 December 2011

PYONGYANG, North Korea: Towns and villages across North Korea set up mourning centers in a stepped-up show of public grief Friday over the death of leader Kim Jong Il, but attention and allegiances clearly began shifting to his young, untested son and heir.

Scenes of dramatic mass mourning have been a daily occurrence in Pyongyang since Kim’s death was announced on Monday. Thousands of North Koreans — including his son Kim Jong Un and other top officials — have poured into a funeral palace in the capital to view his body or bow before his portrait.
By Friday, mourning stations had also been established in provincial, city and county seats, and at institutions and enterprises across the country.
“The sorrow at the loss of our leader is tremendous. But we would not stay in grief only,” Sok Kil Nam, a 24-year-old worker at the Chollima Steel Complex in the city of Nampho, told The Associated Press. He added: “As long as we have great comrade Kim Jong Un, the cause of the respected General Kim Jong Il will go on, so we continue working, not leaving our work sites.”
North Korea’s official media have been quick to feature the younger Kim in coverage of the mourning — a strong indication that the country’s leadership is behind installing the 20-something son as Kim Jong Il’s successor and the public face of the nation.
North Korean television showed hours of footage Friday of weeping citizens, and state media reported that small children stood in the bitter cold and wailed over Kim Jong Il’s death “at the top of their voices” as they held fairy tale books that Kim had given them.
Officials in Seoul and Washington, after initial jitters over possible instability, are calling the transition so far a smooth one. There have been no outward signs of unrest on the streets or unusual troop movements along the borders.
“We continue to monitor and assess the situation and continue normal operations for stability and security in the region,” said Cmdr. Ron Steiner, a spokesman for the US 7th Fleet, which is based in Japan.
The North, however, remains highly sensitive to what it sees as outside threats.
One North Korean media outlet known for being particularly strident in its commentary slammed South Korea for putting its military on a heightened alert level after Kim’s death, calling it an “insult” that derides the dignity of a nation in mourning.
The government-run website, Uriminzokkiri, also said the fate of relations between the two Koreas depends on how the South deals with requests from its civilians to visit the North to pay respects to Kim.
“We are watching the attitude of the South Korean government,” it said.
It said Pyongyang will accept anyone from South Korea hoping to pay respects to Kim Jong Il and that routes by both air and land will be opened. North Korea has said through its other media that foreign delegations would not be allowed in to attend the official funeral for Kim on Dec. 28-29.
Keenly aware of the sensitivities, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has sought to assure Pyongyang that his country is “not hostile,” despite putting its front-line troops on alert since Kim’s death was announced. On Friday, the presidential Blue House announced it had lifted an emergency mode for all government workers except those involved in security and foreign affairs.
Even so, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Choi Boh-seon said his government remains firm in its position not to allow civilians to visit North Korea to pay respects to Kim Jong Il, except the families of former President Kim Dae-jung and former Hyundai Asan chairman Chung Mong-hun.
Kim met with Kim Jong Il in 2000 in Pyongyang in a landmark summit meeting between the two Koreas. Chung led a joint tourism project with North Korea that yielded much-sought hard currency for Pyongyang until its suspension in 2008.
In a parliamentary hearing, South Korean Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik said Seoul is open to dialogue with the North, if that would be constructive.
“I hope the emergence of the new leader will lead North Korea to move in the right direction and enhance the livelihoods of the North Korean people,” Yu said.
Communication between the United States and North Korea also still appears open as the North continues its official 11-day mourning period. But the State Department said it wasn’t expecting any meeting with the North Koreans this week, and little contact before the mourning period ends Dec. 29.
In a strong endorsement of the young Kim, the North’s main newspaper Rodong Sinmun has urged the country to “rally, rally and rally behind great comrade Kim Jong Un and faithfully uphold his leadership.”
It called him “the outstanding leader of our party, military and people and a great successor.”
South Korea’s intelligence agency has told Parliament members that an ad hoc committee in which Kim Jong Un is a vice chairman is expected to handle key state affairs before he formally becomes the country’s leader.
The agency predicts Kim Jong Un’s aunt Kim Kyong Hui, a key Workers’ Party official, and Jang Song Thaek, her husband and a vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission, will play larger roles supporting the heir, according to a lawmaker who spoke to the AP.

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