N Korea holds funeral for late leader
Seoul - North Korea on Wednesday began the funeral of late leader Kim Jong-Il, Russian media reported from a snowy Pyongyang, as the grieving communist state bolstered his son's status as "great successor".
ITAR-TASS news agency said the obsequies had begun in the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, where the late strongman's body is lying in state in a glass coffin.
The North's official media carried fulsome tributes to Kim, but did not say whether the ceremony - expected to bring hundreds of thousands into the streets - had started.
The media has given no indication when it would begin. Foreign delegations were not invited.
Streets of the showpiece capital Pyongyang and all other towns and cities were packed with citizens and soldiers sweeping away snow, the official news agency said.
State television on Wednesday broadcast undated scenes of mass grief at the memorial palace, with Kim's son Jong-Un consoling mourners and bowing deeply to his father's coffin.
Amid mourning music, it also carried file footage on the life of the "Dear Leader", who held absolute power for 17 years in the nuclear-armed nation.
"The people bid farewell to father General in great sorrow," said 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", its editorial said.
Since the elder Kim died of a heart attack on December 17 at age 69, the North's propaganda machine has been heaping tributes on both him and his youthful son and successor Jong-Un.
Official media has declared Jong-Un the "great successor", supreme military commander and Central Committee chief of the ruling Workers' Party, although he has not yet been formally appointed to the party and military posts.
The news agency, in a report earlier on Wednesday, referred to Jong-Un as "supreme leader of the Workers' Party of Korea and the Korean people".
Analysts expect Wednesday's funeral will be largely a re-run of the 1994 obsequies for Kim Jong-Il's father and founding president Kim Il-Sung - a ceremony designed to pay homage to the late leader and build loyalty to his dynastic successor.
"The regime used the 1994 funeral to strengthen public allegiance and loyalty to new leader Kim Jong-Il," Yang Moo-Jin of Seoul's University of North Korean Studies said.
"His own funeral will be staged in a similar way."
The untested new leader Kim Jong-Un, only in his late 20s, has been the central figure in scenes of intense grief at the memorial palace.
It was unclear how prominently he would figure in the funeral itself. Kim Jong-Il was absent from the funeral motorcade for his late father 17 years ago.
South Korean media, basing their forecasts on the 1994 ceremonial, said the event would likely begin with Jong-Un and senior officials paying final respects at the memorial palace.
They said the military was expected to fire a 24-gun salute and troops would march through central Pyongyang, accompanying a limousine carrying Kim's coffin and another car with a giant photo.
Military marching bands would play funeral music while convoys of motorcycles and cars carrying flowers and senior officials would follow the coffin as hundreds of thousands looked on, the media forecast.
Mourning will officially end on Thursday with a nationwide memorial service including a three-minute silence at noon. Trains, ships and other vehicles will sound their hooters.
Kim senior presided over a famine in the 1990s which killed hundreds of thousands and a collapsing economy. But he pressed on with missile tests and a nuclear weapons programme which earned his nation international sanctions.
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.
The UN agencies have said six million people - a quarter of the population - still urgently need food aid.
The North has ordered its nationals working overseas to return home for the funeral and has imported truckloads of flowers from China, said South Korean newspaper the Korea JoongAng Daily.