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North Korea calls Kim Jong Un 'supreme leader' at father's funeral

PYONGYANG, North Korea — Kim Jong Il's son and successor was declared "supreme leader" of North Korea's ruling party, military and the people during a memorial today for his father in the first public endorsement of his leadership by the government.

Kim Jong Un, head bowed and somber in a dark overcoat, stood watching from a balcony at the Grand People's Study House overlooking Kim Il Sung Square, flanked by the top party and military officials and Kim Jong Il's younger sister.

Hundreds of thousands packed the square in central Pyongyang, filling the plaza from the Grand People's Study to the Taedong River for the second day of funeral ceremonies for the late leader.

Kim Jong Il, who led his 24 million people with absolute rule for 17 years, died of a heart attack Dec. 17 at age 69, according to state media. He had taken power following the 1994 death of his father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung. Soon after Kim Jong Il's death, attention turned to his young son, who was revealed last year as his father's choice as successor.

The emotionally charged funeral cemented Kim Jong Un, who is in his late 20s, as the country's next leader. That's not expected to become formal until top party, parliamentary and government representatives convene to confirm his ascension.

Kim Jong Un was head mourner Wednesday on a bitter, snowy day in Pyongyang, walking with one hand on the black hearse that carried his father's coffin on its roof, his other hand raised in salute, his head bowed against the wind.

Mourners in parkas lined the streets, waving, stamping and crying as the convoy bearing his coffin passed. The dramatic scenes of grief showed how effectively North Korea built a personality cult around Kim Jong Il despite chronic food shortages and decades of economic hardship.

At the end of the 2 1/2-hour procession, rifles fired 21 times as Kim Jong Un stood flanked by the top party and military officials who are expected to be his inner circle of advisers. He saluted again as goose-stepping soldiers carrying flags and rifles marched by.

North Korea calls Kim Jong Un 'supreme leader' at father's funeral 12/28/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 28, 2011 11:13pm]
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