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North Koreans Honor Late Leader Kim Jong Il


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

The body of North Korea's late leader Kim Jong Il lies in state today in a glass coffin in the capital, Pyongyang. In the three days since his death, little has emerged about what's next in North Korea, other than a state funeral has been set for next week.

Governments around the region are monitoring for signs of instability, and they're also debating how to respond to the events.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn is in South Korea and joins us from Seoul. And Anthony, what do you know about the scene up there in Pyongyang, North Korea?

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Well, today marked the kickoff of official state mourning, and Kim Jong Il's body was laid out in Kumsusan Memorial Palace, the same place where embalmed body of Kim Jong Il's father Kim Il Sung has been since he died in 1994, much like you'd see in Lenin's tomb in Red Square in Moscow or in Mao Zedong's mausoleum in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, swathed in red, laid out on a bier, surrounded by flowers.

And today, Kim Jong Il's son and heir-apparent Kim Jong Un went to pay his respects to his father, and stood and grieved in silence. The whole town continued to be deep in mourning, with all entertainment barred throughout the country.

MONTAGNE: Are there any signs that the young Kim is in the process of cementing his position as the heir to his father?

KUHN: It's more like his position is being cemented for him, I think. State media today were full of titles and praise for Kim Jong Un, calling him a great successor, an outstanding leader, a leader identical to his late father. The North Korean Central News Agency called on all party members and people to remain loyal to the guidance of the respected Kim Jong Un. A lot of these are new terms that they've rolled out to try to instill loyalty and respect to the very young Kim, whose rise has really been somewhat stealthy, and it's not really official yet.

MONTAGNE: Now, South Korea has extended its condolences, and I gather not all South Koreans are happy about that.

KUHN: Yes. There was quite a bit of debate between those who said South Korea should engage with the North and those who said it should not. And there were protests in the street today by anti-North Korea activists. Let's hear what those sounded like.

KIM JIN CHUL: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: And at those protests, one of the people who spoke was an activist and Christian named Mr. Kim Jin Chul.

CHUL: (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: Mr. Kim said that Kim Jong Il was responsible for acts of terrorism, two acts of armed provocation which caused scores of South Koreans their lives last year, and that any condolence to the North would be like offering up the freedom of South Korean people.

In the end, the South Korean government decided to send its condolences, but they will not send any heads of state to the funeral, and North Korea has not invited any foreign heads of state. However, the family of the late President Kim Dae-jung will be allowed to go. Kim held a summit with Kim Jong Il early in this century.

MONTAGNE: Just briefly, what about the international response? Where does that stand as of today?

KUHN: Other heads of state have also been trying to calibrate their responses. Secretary of State Clinton also expressed her concern about the welfare of the North Korean people without sending condolences on Kim Jong Il.

China said it was in contact with the U.S. and South Korea, and also expressed concern about stability, as did U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who said the U.N. would do everything it could to preserve stability in the region.

MONTAGNE: That's Anthony Kuhn, speaking to us from Seoul, South Korea. Thanks very much.

KUHN: Thank you, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.
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