North Korea on Monday mourned the death one year ago of leader Kim Jong-il, with its rocket scientists taking pride of place at a special memorial ceremony led by his son and successor Kim Jong-un.
Kim Jong-il died of a heart attack on December 17, last year, although his death was only announced two days later.
Hundreds of thousands of people, civilian and military, stood stock still in ranked formation outside the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun mausoleum in Pyongyang, observing a moment’s silence.
Wrapped in heavy overcoats against the bitter winter cold, the mass crowd listened to a speech extolling the late Kim’s virtues delivered from a balcony where Kim Jong-un, dressed all in black, watched over the proceedings.
The facade of the giant mausoleum, which houses the embalmed bodies of Kim Jong-il and his father and founding president Kim Il-sung, was dominated by two giant portraits of the former leaders under a flag flying at half-mast.
The ceremony was broadcast live on state TV, with an emotional commentary provided by a female announcer.
“Our people and the military are tearfully longing for the sunny smile of our dear father,” the announcer said.
“We yearn for you, and all the days we spent with you, with unendurable longing,” she added.
The Kim family has ruled the isolated, impoverished but nuclear-armed nation for more than six decades with an iron fist and a pervasive personality cult.
Earlier, Kim Jong-un, accompanied by his wife Ri Sol-ju, led hundreds of top party and military officials in a formal memorial ceremony inside the mausoleum, bowing deeply before two giant statues of his father and grandfather.
The stone-faced officials clad in black were led by goose-stepping soldiers carrying a large floral tribute with a ribbon reading, “The great comrades Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung stay with us forever.”
A group of scientists who worked on the North’s successful long-range rocket launch last week were among the first to pay tribute.
“These are scientists who made great contributions to the successful launch of our Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite and helped showcase the nation’s scientific technologies to the whole world,” the TV announcer said.
The North claimed Wednesday’s launch was a purely scientific project to put the weather satellite into orbit.
But the United States and other nations viewed it as a disguised ballistic missile test banned under UN resolutions triggered by its past nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
The Security Council condemned the launch and has promised “an appropriate response”.
The launch was apparently timed to mark the death anniversary and to drum up more support for the young and inexperienced Jong-un.
The public eulogy on the mausoleum balcony was given by Choe Ryong-hae, the head of the Korean army’s politburo, who called on the country to “rally behind” the new leader.
Kim Jong-un, flanked on the podium by the ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-nam and his powerful aunt, Kim Kyong-hui, did not speak.
In one of Pyongyang’s main squares, people left floral tributes at the foot of giant statues of the two Kims, with state media saying at least 750,000 mourners had paid their respects on Sunday alone.
“People from all walks of life desperately longing for our father... are flooding the site day and night,” the Korean Central News Agency said.
“The night deepens but lights don’t go out in apartments in the capital engulfed by a wave of mourning and grief,” it said.