PYONGYANG: True to the state philosophy, the funeral of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il, was an occasion by North Koreans, for North Koreans. The world could only look on and wonder what direction this impoverished, nuclear-armed, deeply mistrustful country will take as the world's first communist dynasty farewelled its second representative and introduced a third.
For the citizens present, it was a time to show their grief. Wailing and clutching at their hearts, tens of thousands lined the snowy streets of Pyongyang yesterday as Kim's hearse wound its way through the capital for a final farewell.
Son and successor Kim Jong-un led the procession, his head bowed against the wind and right arm raised in a salute, from Kumsusan Memorial Palace where his father's body had lain in state. Walking behind Kim Jong-un was Jang Song-thaek, Kim Jong-il's brother-in-law and a vice-chairman of the powerful National Defence Commission who is expected to play a crucial role in helping Kim Jong-un take power. Kim's two other sons, Kim Jong-nam and Kim Jong-chol, have not been spotted.
Sobs and wails filled the air as mourners in the front rows, bareheaded in the cold and snow, stamped their feet and cried as the hearse passed by.
Heavy snow was falling in Pyongyang, which state media characterised in the early days of mourning as proof that the skies were ''grieving'' for Kim as well. Footage on state TV showed images of swirling snow, the log cabin in far northern Mount Paektu where Kim is said to have been born and the mountain named after Kim Jong-il, where his name is carved into the rocky face in red.
The mourning continues today, with three minutes of silence at noon.
Kim Jong-il, who led the nation with an iron fist following his father Kim Il-sung's death in 1994, died of a heart attack on December 17 at the age of 69, according to state media.
Pyongyang closed the city to foreign delegations, with a few exceptions. The Reverend Moon Hyung-jin, an American citizen and president of the Unification Church, arrived in North Korea on Saturday and planned to attend the funeral, the church said. A Japanese magician, Tenko Hikita, who performed in private events for Kim Jong-il, was also asked to attend the ceremony; she declined the invitation.
But even as North Koreans mourned the loss of the second leader the nation has known, the transition of power was under way. Kim Jong-un, who is in his late 20s, is already being hailed by state media as the ''supreme leader'' of the party, state and army.
State media declared the country in his ''warm care'' as the Kim family's hold on power reached a third generation. Over the past week, state media has bestowed him with new titles, including ''great successor'', ''supreme leader'' and ''sagacious leader''.
He is believed to have led a private ceremony earlier yesterday in the inner sanctum of the Kumsusan Memorial Palace with top military and party officials. A national memorial service will take place today, state media said.
Before the two days of
national mourning began, North Korea said it wanted to restore scuttled agreements with South Korea that could channel investments from the developed South into the impoverished North. The request was conveyed in the first official interaction with visitors from the South since the death of Kim Jong-il.
But it was unclear whether North Korea under the new leadership would offer any concessions in return for restoring those agreements, which South Korea scrapped four years ago.
Chairman of the North Korean parliament and a ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong-nam, expressed the wish when he met Lee Hee-ho, the widow of former president Kim Dae-jung of South Korea, according to Ms Lee's spokesman.
However, North Korea's ''military-first'' policy - in which the armed forces receive top priority in funding, planning and everything else - will continue under the untested leadership of Mr Kim, according to statements in the state-controlled media.
Kim Jong-il's 17-year reign was defined by ''Songun'', the policy that said building a strong military was the Stalinist nation's primary goal.
The elder Kim developed tanks and long-range artillery on par with those in far richer and more technologically advanced South Korea. He developed a nuclear weapons arsenal of at least 10 warheads and moved 700,000 of North Korea's 1.2 million troops within 150 kilometres of the peninsula's demilitarised zone. Members of the military were given preferential treatment, receiving larger food rations and better educations for their children, according to defectors.
Under the leadership of Kim Jong-un, this military-first policy ''will be given steady continuity at all times'', the Korean Central News Agency said. The state-run newspaper published an editorial over the weekend headlined: ''Korean people will accomplish the cause of Songun under leadership of Kim Jong-un.''
The embrace of Songun underscores the challenge Mr Kim faces as he tries to cement the loyalty of the nation's senior military leaders. Those elite officials appear for now to be Mr Kim's most important backers. But they could quickly turn into his most direct threat, if the young leader pushes for reforms or wants to prioritise spending on something other than the military.
At the start of South Korea's Sunshine Policy for the North, Kim Jong-il held summits with Kim Dae-jung in 2000 and his successor, Roh Moo-hyun, in 2007. Both South Korean leaders believed that boosting economic exchanges would ease military tensions and reduce the cost of an eventual reunification of Korea.
But the approach was reversed when Lee Myung-bak, a conservative, came to power in early 2008. He demanded the North first abandon its nuclear weapons program. North Korea has since denounced Mr Lee as a ''national traitor'' and demanded the summit agreements be reinstated. Recent military provocations against the South were seen as efforts to win concessions.
Pyongyang's demand concerning the agreements provided an early sign Mr Kim was not shifting its basic stance on South Korea.
In an essay paying homage to Kim Jong-il yesterday, the Workers' Party mouthpiece Rodong Sinmun said North Korea under his leadership had been ''dignified as a country that manufactured and launched artificial satellites and accessed nukes''.
Associated Press, The Washington Post