Tens of thousands of Pyongyang residents bid an emotional farewell to their late leader Kim Jong Il as a black hearse drove through snow-covered streets. North Korean state media showed citizens lined up in freezing weather shouting and wailing. Some pounded their chests.
The three-hour long procession started Wednesday at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace where the body of Kim Jong Il has lain since his death was announced on Dec. 19. Kim died of a heart attack on Dec. 17 while on a train journey, according to North Korean media.
Tens of thousands of military officials in uniforms stood still waiting at the plaza in front of the palace. At 10 a.m., the hearse carrying Kim's flower-decorated coffin atop made a grand entrance. Kim's successor, Kim Jong Un, escorted the hearse on foot with his left hand holding onto the sedan's side mirror. On the left was top military leader Ri Yong Ho, and just behind the young Kim was his uncle and Kim Jong Il's brother-in-law Jang Sung-Taek. Jang is believed to be the power behind the scenes.
"They are trying to stick a very powerful front image," said Lee Jung-Hoon, professor of international relations at Yonsei University. The entire procession is carefully choreographed "to make sure that the entire nation mourns and they pledge their loyalty" to these handful of men in the inner circle.
State media in the past week have hailed Kim Jong Un, reportedly in his late 20s, as "respectful leader," "son of heaven," "supreme leader" and "father of the nation." These titles had been strictly reserved to describing late Kim Jong Il and his grandfather and founder of North Korea, the late Kim Il Sung.
The hearse, followed by dozens of cars and military trucks, drove slowly, passing through major monuments in the capital. Public displays of theatrical mourning continued in freezing snowfall weather, with even old women and young children with reddened cheeks and wet hair wailing out loud.
"Even the people, mountains, rivers and the sky are crying for our dear leader," said one solider interviewed by North Korean state TV at the plaza. Another woman pointing at her outfit cried out, "You gave us these new uniforms and said you will be back to see us wearing it! General, you are not gone, you cannot leave us!"
The three-hour long procession ended back at the palace, with Kim Jong Un again walking alongside the hearse with a salute. Together with the top officials, he stood, head-bowed, while rifles were fired 21 times.
The official funeral lasts two days, after which late Kim will be laid to rest at Kumsusan Memorial Palace, where his father Kim Il Sung has laid embalmed since 1994. On Thursday noon, the nation will observe three minutes of silence -- trains, ships cars are required to blow whistles and sirens.
Seoyoung Cho and Sooyun Yum contributed to this report.