, SEOUL, Dec 28 – Wailing North Koreans on Wednesday bade a final farewell to longtime leader Kim Jong-Il as his young son and successor walked bareheaded beside his father’s coffin through a snowbound Pyongyang.
Tens of thousands of troops bowed their heads as the cortege left the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, where the late strongman’s body had lain in state in a glass coffin.
Preceded by a car bearing a huge portrait of a smiling Kim and other vehicles, a limousine carried Kim’s coffin – draped with a red flag and surrounded by white flowers – on its roof.
His son and “great successor” Jong-Un, dressed in black and gloveless despite the cold, held the side of his father’s hearse.
He was accompanied by his influential uncle Jang Song-Thaek; senior ruling party officials Kim Ki-Nam and Choe Thae-Bok; military chief Ri Yong-Ho; armed forces minister Kim Yong-Chun; and Kim Jong-Gak, who is in charge of military administration and organisation.
Analysts said the line-up gave some initial clues about who would influence the young and untested leader as he takes charge of the impoverished and hungry but nuclear-armed nation.
Kim’s absolute 17-year rule was marked by a 1990s famine that killed hundreds of thousands, a crumbling state-directed economy and the pursuit of long-range missiles and nuclear weapons which brought international sanctions.
UN agencies have said six million people – a quarter of the population – still urgently need food aid.
But hundreds of thousands of shivering soldiers and civilians, many weeping bitterly or beating the frozen ground, were seen on state television lining the 40-kilometre (25-mile) route.
“The people bid farewell to father General in great sorrow,” read the main headline in ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun.
“The most heartbreaking time has come, when we cannot but bid farewell to the great father everyone in this land had followed with their hearts and souls.”
Millions of servicemen and civilians were “firmly determined to become the guns and bombs to protect our dear comrade Kim Jong-Un and the warriors to realise his ideals and intentions”.
Kim gave North Korea dignity as a country “that manufactured and launched artificial satellites and accessed nukes”, the paper’s editorial said.
Since the elder Kim died of a heart attack on December 17 aged 69, the North’s propaganda machine has been heaping tributes on both him and Jong-Un.
Official media has declared Jong-Un the “great successor” and chief of the ruling party and military.
“The funeral revealed some clues about who will stand beside Kim Jong-Un to protect him,” Kim Yong-Hyun of Seoul’s Dongguk University told AFP.
He said Kim Ki-Nam and Choe Thae-Bok were symbolic figures representing the ruling party.
“The other four including Jang are expected to play a key role in the next government under Jong-Un. They will serve as the protectors and sponsors of Jong-Un to prop up his regime.”
Yang Moo-Jin of Seoul’a University of North Korean Studies said the people walking beside the hearse represent the party, military and administration.
“They played a key role under Kim Jong-Il and are expected to become the pillars of the Kim Jong-Un regime.”
The late Kim inherited power from his father and founding president Kim Il-Sung before passing it on to his son.
The dynasty has been buttressed by a huge personality cult, the world’s fourth-largest military and a repressive internal security apparatus.
Kim died while taking a train to make a “field guidance” visit, state media has said, portraying him as a tireless worker for his people to the end.
“It seems the sky knows well of how much he got snowed on during his uninterrupted field guidance tour for the happiness of the people,” the official news agency said, remarking on Wednesday’s snowfall.
“We will overcome the overwhelming grief today and continue our victory… as we have comrade Kim Jong-Un, the supreme leader of our party and people,” said a female TV presenter during a live broadcast.
Mourning will officially end on Thursday with a nationwide memorial service including a three-minute silence. Trains, ships and other vehicles will sound their hooters.
The South’s Yonhap news agency quoted the head of Seoul’s National Intelligence Service, Won Sei-Hoon, as telling lawmakers that the North appears likely to continue the policies of its late leader.