North Korean leader laid to rest

Late North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un

North Korea’s military staged a huge funeral procession in the snowy streets of the capital, Pyongyang, on Wednesday for its deceased ‘dear leader’, Kim Jong-il, readying a transition to his son, Kim Jong-un.

Pictures from state television showed a funeral cortege led by a limousine carrying a huge picture of the 69-year old, who died on Dec. 17, passing serried ranks of olive green-clad soldiers whose bare heads were bowed in homage in the main square of the capital.

A hearse carrying the coffin was led by a weeping Kim Jong-un, accompanied by Jang Song-thaek, his uncle and a key power-broker in the transition, and Ri Yong-ho, the army chief of staff.

“Seeing this white snow fall has made me think of the general’s (Kim’s) efforts and this brings tears to my eyes,” Seo Ju-rim, a red-cheeked, weeping female soldier, told North Korean television.

One of the myths surrounding Kim Jong-il was that he could control the weather and state media has reported unusually cold and wild weather accompanying his death.

The video of weeping civilians, who swayed with grief and shouted “father, father”, appeared to be out of synch, with the audio on the broadcast.

It was not clear whether it was live or recorded as black Lincoln and Mercedes limousines as well as army trucks streamed past the crowds.

Kim Jong-un will become the third member of the family to run the North Asian country as it enters 2012, the year that was supposed to mark its self-proclaimed transformation into a ‘strong and prosperous’ nation.

“The footage highlights the rising status of Jang Song-thaek ever since the first news of Kim Jong-il’s death,” said Yoo Ho-yeol, a North Korea expert at Korea University in the south.

“Kim Jong-un is clearly the head of the new leadership but, in terms of hierarchy and influence, Jang appears to have secured considerable position,” he said.

It would seem, however, that little is set to change for the 25 million citizens of a country that has staged what many analysts have dubbed a ‘Great March Backwards’ over the past 20 years.

North Korea which has ambitions to become a nuclear power and boasts a 1.2 million-strong armed forces is backed by neighbouring China, but does not have a commensurate growth in the economy.

On an average, North Koreans have a life expectancy three-and-a-half years lower than they did when “Eternal President” Kim Il-sung died, according to UN data.

The UN, in a country programme for 2011-15, says North Korea’s main challenge is to “restore the economy to the level attained before 1990” and to alleviate food shortages for a third of its 25 million population.

Indications from the transition since Kim Jong-il’s death suggest his ‘military first’ policy will continue, leading to further hardship in a country that endured mass starvation in the 1990s

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