A nervous region watches as North Korea mourns Kim Jong Il | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 28.12.2011
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A nervous region watches as North Korea mourns Kim Jong Il

As North Koreans lined the streets of the capital at the start of a two-day funeral for their "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il, region powers are asking what his son and "great successor" will do for the isolated state.

Huge portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jung Il, who died on 17 December

Many mourned during a funeral procession for Kim Jong Il

North Koreans lined the streets of Pyongyang on Wednesday in a public outpouring of grief during a two-day state funeral for their "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il.

State television pictures showed serving members of the North Korean military and citizens gathered in their thousands, weeping and expressing their distress at Kim Jong Il's death.

He is reported to have died of a heart attack on December 17 after several years of suspected poor health. The 69-year-old Kim Jong Il led North Korea for 17 years after his father Kim Il Sung's died in 1994.

Kim Jong Il's youngest son Kim Jung Un

State media has called Kim Jung Un his father's "great successor"

A motorcade headed by a black limousine carrying the body, and another with a huge portrait of the leader, drove slowly through the capital. His youngest son and likely successor, Kim Jong Un, walked along side his father’s body outside the Kumsusan Memorial Palace.

Test for the "great successor"

The state funeral is seen as an opportunity for 28-year-old Kim Jong Un to establish his authority in the country and garner the respect of the people.

He has not yet been formally appointed, but state media has declared Kim Jong Un the "great successor," supreme military commander and Central Committee chief of the ruling Workers' Party.

But it is expected that Kim Jung Un will take on a mere figurehead role, rather than lead the country.

He was followed at the side of the limousine carrying his father by high-ranking military and party officials, including his uncle Jang Song Taek. Some analysts believe Jang Song Taek - considered to have been Kim Jong Il's deputy - will act as regent at the start of the Kim Jung Un's reign.

"China has expressed its approval of a transfer of power to Kim Jong Un," said Patrick Köllner at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA), "but it's by no means confirmed."

A nervous region

The situation is being watched with some nervousness by South Korea, prompting one expert at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation to say that inter-Korean relations will remain "uncertain for the foreseeable future."

Smoke seen rising on South Korea's Yeonpyeong island after it was shelled by the North in 2010

The shelling of Yeonpyeong island was a new low in inter-Korea ties

South Korea's president, Lee Myung Bak, has taken a hard line over the North, which has been seen to provoke Seoul in recent years with repeat missile tests, the alleged sinking of a South Korean naval ship, the Cheonan, and the direct shelling of the South's Yeonpyeong Island.

North Korea said it was itself provoked by a three-day land and sea live-fire drill played out by the South in late 2010 near the two countries' shared border.

"The channels of dialogue are closed - the relationship is on ice," Köllner said.

Instability could spread

And there are fears that Kim Jung Un - or the military and party heads behind him - will find it necessary to introduce the new leadership era with a fresh act of aggression.

Hann Günther Hilpert of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) said the near future is hard to predict, but he said he sees a guiding hand coming from China.

Beijing is Pyongyang's strongest ally, and China is concerned that any instability in North Korea could spark a large movement of refugees to the provinces that border China and further complicate the situation there.

"Leadership transitions in authoritarian regimes are usually periods when there's a danger of great instability," Hilpert said. "At the moment all energy is being directed internally."

Author: Rodion Ebbighausen, Zulfikar Abbany (AP, AFP, Reuters)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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