North Koreans celebrate 70th birthday of late leader Kim Jong-il
Published 16/02/2012 | 08:56
NORTH Korea launched a colourful array of celebrations, tributes and festivities on Thursday to mark the 70th birthday of the late leader Kim Jong-il.
Emotional tributes and documentary footage were broadcast on state television marking the "Day of the Shining Star", paying homage to Kim, who died of a heart attack in December last year at the age of 69.
In freezing Pyongyang, Kim Jong-un, his youngest son and new leader, dressed in a sombre Mao suit, led officials into Kumsusan Memorial Palace to bow before a large portrait of his late father.
Among those bowing and laying flowers at Kim II Sung Square, the city's main plaza, was Paek Won Chol, a "soldier and disciple" of Kim, who said: "I will devote my all for the building of a powerful and prosperous nation."
A vast bronze statue of the former leader was earlier unveiled in Pyongyang to tie in with the festivities, depicting the former leader on horseback alongside his father and founder of the state Kim Il-sung.
An art exhibition devoted to his memory is also being staged in Pyongyang, along with a festival of Kimjongilia – a hybrid red begonia – while a 400 feet wide inscription has been carved on a rock face to mark the occasion.
Meanwhile, commemorative stamps and coins have been produced in his memory, composers have created new odes in his honour and he was also posthumously appointed "Generalissimo", the country's highest title and the latest of a long list of adulatory titles bestowed upon him.
Among the televised tributes were the words of an elderly woman, whose voice quivered with emotion as she said: "The General took time out of his busy schedule and deigned to visit my daughter's home listening to this old farmer's concerns. There are no other leaders in the world like the General."
The unrestrained pomp and ceremony surrounding the event reflects the state's attempts to bolster the near mythical personality cult surrounding the Kim dynasty, which has intensified since the death of Kim Jong-il.
The festivities are regarded by experts as part of an ongoing strategy to help smooth the succession of Kim Jong-il's youngest and inexperienced son Jong-un, new leader of the isolated and nuclear-armed state.
The lavish scale of the birthday proceedings invariably conflicted with the current situation in North Korea, home to a crumbling economy blighted by shortages of power and raw materials.
Food shortages are also a critical problem since the region as hit by a major famine in the 1990s, with current life expectancy more than a decade less than those currently living in South Korea, according to Seoul's statistical agency.
The birthday celebrations come one week before North Korea is due to hold talks in Beijing with US officials in relation to a possible resumption of six-nation nuclear disarmament negotiations, which is expected shed further light on Jong-un's policies as new leader.