REPORTING FROM SEOUL -- Hundreds of thousands of mourners are expected to attend the funeral in Pyongyang for North Korean leader Kim Jong Il on Wednesday, as the secretive state bids farewell to its “Dear Leader” and ushers in the era of his chosen successor and youngest son.
At midmorning, North Korea’s state-run television began airing video of weeping mourners who had paid their respects to Kim, whose body lay in state at Pyongyang’s Kumsusan Memorial Palace.
Government-controlled media said his son, Kim Jong Un, accompanied by top military officials, had visited the palace to pay his respects five times since his father’s death of a heart attack on Dec. 17.
It remains unclear whether Kim Jong Il will be buried or embalmed for the ages as his father, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994, was.
The elder Kim’s body was handed over to Russian embalmers, who spent nearly a year to prepare it, at a reported cost of $1 million. The upkeep of the body also reportedly costs hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
The body lies in a glass casket next to the former leader’s limousine. Some reports say the remains are triggered to raise to viewing level when a visitor enters the room.
In South Korea, television stations blitzed the airwaves with analysis of the funeral. The consensus among prognosticators was that it marked Kim Jong Un’s first true test as leader.
How the son handles himself will provide a signal of his capabilities to lead North Korea. His goal will be to show that order has been maintained and that the affairs of state go on.
At public observation towers along the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea, which have technically been at war since the 1950s, South Koreans gathered to get a glimpse of their northern counterparts.
South Korean television reporters said they had access to streaming video of the events. But South Korean security law prohibits any event taking place in North Korea from being broadcast live here.
-- John M. Glionna and Jung-yoon Choi
Photo: An image from North Korean TV shows Kim Jong Un as he pays respect to the body of his father at Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang on Tuesday. Credit: Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station