North Koreans paid tribute to their former ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong Il on the anniversary of his death on Monday during a period of official mourning that local sources said had been overshadowed by celebrations over last week’s satellite launch.
Hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians gathered outside the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in the capital Pyongyang for a mass memorial to the late dictator.
His son and successor Kim Jong Un presided over the ceremony, which was broadcast live on state television, at the mausoleum where his father’s embalmed remains lie in state.
Kim, accompanied by his wife and top officials, looked on from a balcony as the crowd stood still to observe three minutes of silence at midday, while the national flag flew at half-staff.
The ceremony and nationwide moment of silence were part of an official 10-day mourning period commemorating the late dictator’s death of a heart attack in his train last year.
But during the period, mourning has taken a backseat to celebrations over North Korea’s launch of the Unha-3 long-range rocket last week that marked a triumph for the young new leader, sources said.
The rocket launch, which was condemned by other countries as a violation of bans against developing missile technology, carried the Kwangmyongsong satellite into orbit, making impoverished North Korea one of only a handful of nations to put a satellite in space.
“As the rocket launched successfully … the mood for the memorial service has gone,” a source in North Hamgyong province told RFA’s Korean Service last week, speaking on condition of anonymity after the start of the mourning period.
“Now it feels more like the holiday season and there are even performances in the street celebrating the success of the rocket launching,” a source in Yanggang province said, also speaking condition of anonymity.
The satellite, which bears one of Kim Jong Il’s nicknames “the Lode Star,” followed years of failed attempts under the late leader to launch a long-range rocket and was lauded as a successful continuation of his policies.
At the ceremony outside the Kumsusan Palace, North Korea’s top leadership eulogized the late Kim and praised the younger Kim for the launch’s success.
In speeches at the ceremony and state broadcasts, the launch was portrayed not only as a gift to Kim Jong Il but also as proof that his son, who is believed to be in his late 20s, has the strength and vision to lead the country.
Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of North Korea's parliament, called the launch a "shining victory" and an emblem of the promise that lies ahead with Kim Jong Un in power.
Scientists in charge of the rocket launch were invited to attend the mourning rites in Pyongyang, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
The successful launch followed a failed attempt in April—months after Kim Jong Un assumed power following the death of his father—that prompted a rare public admission of defeat from the new leader.
Kim also paid his respects in a ceremony in Kumsusan’s “hall of immortality,” where his father’s embalmed remains—dressed in his trademark khaki suit—were unveiled to a select few in a ceremony inaugurating the mausoleum.
During the mourning period, authorities have required citizens across the country to visit local statues or murals of Kim Jong Il and his predecessor Kim Il Sung to pay their respects for three minutes, twice a day, the source in North Hamgyong province said.
Authorities have designated specific times for factories’ to pay their respects at the memorials so that the areas around the monuments are full all day long, the source said.
“People were nervous because the government announced the memorial event would start from the 12th, but the mood for the memorial event is gone now,” the source in North Yanggang province said.
Reported by Sung Hui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service with additional reporting by Rachel Vandenbrink. Translated by Juhyeon Park. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.