Wailing mourners on day of Kim Jong Il’s funeral

North Koreans have been mourning Kim’s death for 11 days with around-the-clock visits to bow and lay flowers at massive portraits of the late leader erected in cities across the nation

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA

Sobbing mourners filed past the begonia-bedecked bier of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, some appearing to shake with grief, in footage aired Wednesday on state television in the hours before his funeral.

North Koreans have been mourning Kim’s death for 11 days with around-the-clock visits to bow and lay flowers at massive portraits of the late leader erected in cities across the nation. Kim died Dec. 17 at age 69, according to state media.

Funeral and memorial services were to be held Wednesday and Thursday, though it was not immediately clear whether North Korea’s sole state-run TV station would be airing the events live. The Wednesday morning broadcast showed footage of mourners wailing as they circled Kim’s body lying in state in a glass case inside Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang.

Kim is lying as though at rest, covered with a red flag, on a bed of flowers featuring his namesake red “kimjongilia” begonias and a case displaying his medals.

The scene is nearly identical to the mourning in 1994 following the death of Kim’s father, President Kim Il Sung, down to the voice of the tremulous broadcaster narrating the mourning on state TV. Footage also showed a military brass band playing revolutionary songs praising Kim.

His son and successor, Kim Jong Un, paid a fifth visit to the bier late Tuesday along with top party and military officials, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said.

Details for Wednesday’s funeral were not made public, but state media said a national memorial service would start midday Thursday and include an artillery salute, three minutes of silence and locomotives and vessels blowing their sirens.

Footage Tuesday from Associated Press Television News in Pyongyang showed long lines of people carrying wreaths and bunches of white flowers toward a building with a huge picture of a smiling Kim Jong Il on its facade. They piled flowers beneath the photo, bowing and crying as they stood in the cold. Some pledged their loyalty to Kim Jong Un. Light traffic flowed through Pyongyang’s streets, people drinking hot tea at makeshift tents set up on the sidewalks.

The 1994 funeral began with a private ceremony attended by Kim Jong Il and top officials before a long procession through Pyongyang to Kim Il Sung Square, the main plaza in the capital, where hundreds of thousands of mourners were waiting.

North Koreans lined the streets and filled the air with theatrical wails, many of the women in traditional black dresses and with white mourning ribbons affixed to their hair.

A similar procession may be in the works for Wednesday, but with the late leader’s trademark red “kimjongilia” begonias replacing the magnolias, and snow and frost as a backdrop.

At the time, details about the funeral in a country largely isolated from the West were shrouded in mystery, revealed only after state TV aired segments of the events in what was the world’s best glimpse of the hidden nation. Most foreigners aside from those living in North Korea were shut out, and the same is expected this week.

Dec 27 2012 / axp

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