Snow and tears mark North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's funeral

North Korea's military staged a huge funeral procession in the snowy streets of the capital, Pyongyang, on Wednesday for its deceased "dear leader," Kim Jong-il.

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North Korea's military staged a huge funeral procession in the snowy streets of the capital, Pyongyang, on Wednesday for its deceased "dear leader," Kim Jong-il, readying a transition to his son, Kim Jong-un.

Pictures from state television showed a funeral cortege led by a limousine carrying a huge picture of the 69-year old, who died on December 17, passing serried ranks of olive green-clad soldiers whose bare heads were bowed in homage in the main square of the capital.

A hearse carrying the coffin was led by a weeping Kim Jong-un, accompanied by Jang Song-thaek, his uncle and a key power-broker in the transition, and Ri Yong-ho, the army chief of staff.

"Seeing this white snow fall has made me think of the general's (Kim's) efforts and this brings tears to my eyes," Seo Ju-rim, a red-cheeked, weeping female soldier, told North Korean television.

One of the myths surrounding Kim Jong-il was that he could control the weather and state media has reported unusually cold and wild weather accompanying his death.

The video of weeping civilians, who swayed with grief and shouted "father, father", appeared to be out of synch with the audio on the broadcast. It was not clear whether it was live or recorded as black Lincoln and Mercedes limousines as well as army trucks streamed past the crowds.

Kim Jong-un will become the third member of the family to run the isolated and unpredictable North Asian country as it enters 2012, the year that was supposed to mark its self-proclaimed transformation into a "strong and prosperous" nation.

"The footage highlights the rising status of Jang Song-thaek ever since the first news of Kim Jong-il's death," said Yoo Ho-yeol, a North Korea expert at Korea University in the south.

"Kim Jong-un is clearly the head of the new leadership but, in terms of hierarchy and influence, Jang appears to have secured considerable position," he said.

It would seem, however, that little is set to change for the 25 million citizens of a country that has staged what many analysts have dubbed a "Great March Backwards" over the past 20 years.

Despite growth that has propelled South Korea to become the world's 13th largest economy, a powerhouse that makes computers, mobile telephones and cars, there are some in the capital of Seoul who believe life is better in the impoverished North.

As the world watched Wednesday's funeral of dictator Kim Jong-il, who presided over famine, a nuclear arms push and military skirmishes with the South, Choi Dong Jin, 48, told Reuters that Kim was "a great and outstanding person" for resisting U.S. imperialism.

Choi is Editor in Chief for the Pan-Korea Alliance for Reunification, a body that promotes the North and unification of the Korean peninsula.

He sits in his office in Seoul's financial district, a smartphone on his desk, beneath a picture of Kim Jong-il in 2000 meeting former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, whose engagement with the North, known as the "Sunshine Policy", has been halted by the current conservative government in Seoul.

"The presence of Kim Jong-Il had prevented the US from waging a war on the Korean Peninsula," Choi told Reuters.

Sympathisers like Choi risk arrest and imprisonment in South Korea even though they appear to be a fringe group.

Under the conservative administration of President Lee Myung-bak, 151 people were questioned for offences involving praising North Korea last year, up from 39 in 2007, according to the National Police Agency data.

By contrast, some 200,000 North Koreans are in forced labour camps for crimes against the regime, according to human rights group Amnesty International.

One member of a body campaigning against South Korea's six-decade old national security law told Reuters that the succession process that will see the 20-something son of Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un, take power looked more "efficient" than South Korea's democratic presidential elections.

In South Korea, a president can serve only one five-year term under the country's constitution that was enacted since the advent of democracy in 1987.

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