SEOUL // Tens of thousands of North Korean mourners bowed before a huge statue of Kim Jong-il on Wednesday, as the regime marked the third anniversary of the former dictator’s death.
Wrapped up against the biting cold, endless rows of people were seen on state television paying their respects to a 22-metre statue of the late leader and his father, Kim Il-sung, on Mansu Hill in Pyongyang.Trains, ships and cars sounded their horns and masses of North Koreans fell silent for three minutes.
“Despite the freezing December weather this morning, our heart for him grows warmer and our loyalty becomes stronger,” said a commentator on state broadcaster Korean Central TV.
Pyongyang newspaper Rodong Sinmun splashed its pages with pictures of the late leader, saying in a frontpage banner that Kim would “live forever as the Sun”.
Mourners bowed deeply and laid bouquets of flowers at the foot of the statue of Kim Jong-il, who ruled the secretive communist country for 17 years before his death in 2011, when his son Kim Jong-un became leader.
It is a Korean custom to observe three years of mourning after the death of a parent.
With the mourning period now behind him, the younger Kim may be more likely to initiate new policies that underscore his own priorities and goals, though it is believed that major departures from his father’s path are unlikely.
Since the death of his father, Kim Jong-un has indicated he wants to build the economy and improve the nation’s standard of living, but he has also held firm to the North’s longstanding – and extremely costly – focus on strengthening its military and developing its nuclear weapons capabilities.
Workers and students have held meetings nationwide to mourn the late dictator and pledge loyalty to his son, according to state media.
Pyongyang this week accused the US of seeking to topple its regime through allegations of human rights abuses, and threatened to hit back with its “toughest-ever counteraction”.
The comments came with the UN Security Council due to meet next week to discuss North Korea’s rights record amid calls for Pyongyang to be referred to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
A UN inquiry released a report in February charging that North Korea has committed human rights abuses “without parallel in the contemporary world”, documenting a vast network of harsh prison camps holding up to 120,000 people along with cases of torture, summary executions and rape.
* Agence France-Presse and Associated Press