Scenes of ‘mass grief’ in North Korea
Seoul - North Korea put the body of its late leader Kim Jong-Il on display in a glass coffin on Tuesday and heaped praise on his son and successor, amid world wariness at the transition in the nuclear-armed nation.
South Korea's government sent its sympathies to the North Korean people despite frosty relations following two deadly border incidents last year.
And it said it would scrap a plan to display Christmas lights near the tense border because its neighbour is in mourning. North Korea has furiously objected to the plan as "psychological warfare".
In Pyongyang, state television showed a sombre dark-clad Kim Jong-Un, youngest son and successor to his father, viewing the corpse along with other high officials.
An honour guard armed with AK-47s watched over the late Kim, dressed in his trademark khaki tunic and partially covered by a red flag, at Pyongyang's Kumsusan Memorial Palace.
State media have reported scenes of mass grief following Kim's death from a heart attack on Saturday, which the regime kept secret for two days until a tearful TV announcer disclosed it and urged people to rally round his youngest son.
‘Pillar of our people’
The North's official news agency touted the inexperienced Jong-Un as the "pillar of our people".
"At the frontline of our revolution stands Comrade Kim Jong-Un, the great successor of the Juche (self-reliance) revolution and the outstanding leader of the party, military and people," it said.
"Comrade Kim Jong-Un is the unwavering spiritual and ideological pillar of our people."
The North has decreed 13 days of nationwide mourning for Kim Jong-Il, who presided over a devastating famine but still found funds to build missiles and nuclear weapons during his 17 years in power.
Despite the nation's hardships, state TV aired footage of near-hysterical mourners, young and old alike, pounding the ground.
The news agency on Tuesday carried fresh reports of grief, saying flags of mourning were flying from military bases, factories, commercial facilities and farms, and endless queues of mourners were forming.
Jong-Un, who is in his late 20s, was catapulted into the limelight after his father suffered a stroke in August 2008. Last year he was made a four-star general and given top ruling party posts.
"This is a turning point for North Korea whose reins have been taken by a new generation," said Cheong Seong-Chang, of Seoul's Sejong Institute think-tank.
But analysts said there would be little turbulence - at least for now - since regime members at present have a vested interest in preserving the status quo.
Observers predict that the younger Kim will be eased into power under the tutelage of his aunt and her husband.
Obama spoke by telephone to Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda following a conversation with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak soon after the death announcement.
"The president underscored the United States' commitment to the defence of our close allies, including Japan," the White House said in a statement.
China backs new leader
"He also conveyed the importance he places on maintaining the stability of the Korean peninsula and the region."
In Beijing, President Hu Jintao visited the North Korean embassy to offer his condolences. China, the North's sole major ally and its economic prop, has given its crucial backing to the young new leader.
"We believe that under the leadership of the Korean Workers' Party and comrade Kim Jong-Un, the DPRK (North Korean) people will unite as one and turn their sorrow into strength," said Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.
Yang has held phone talks with Clinton and South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan on the importance of ensuring security on the Korean peninsula, said foreign ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin.