SEOUL, South Korea — Musicians in military garb played a mournful tune on state television in North Korea on Wednesday as a funeral for late leader Kim Jong Il was believed to be taking place inside the palace where his body was lying in state.
Kim, who had led the nation with an iron fist following his father Kim Il Sung's death in 1994, died of a heart attack Dec. 17 at age 69, according to state media. He is to be succeeded by his young son Kim Jong Un, already being hailed by state media as the "supreme leader" of the party, state and army.
For 11 days since Kim's death was announced, hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have made around-the-clock visits in freezing temperatures to bow and lay flowers at massive portraits of the late leader in a theatrical show of grief similar to the one for his father in 1994.
Heavy snow was falling in Pyongyang on Wednesday, foreign diplomats reached by email in the capital said Wednesday.
The funeral was scheduled for Wednesday, according to Roding Simmun, the newspaper of the ruling Workers' Party. State media provided no other details and the nation's sole TV station was not showing the funeral live.
However, foreign dignitaries were asked to gather at a sports stadium by late Wednesday morning to be taken to the Kumsusan Memorial Palace for a funeral procession through Pyongyang.
In 1994, Kim Il Sung's funeral procession — led by a massive portrait of the late president and followed by his flag-draped coffin on top of a hearse — lasted several hours as it crawled from the Kumsusan palace to central Kim Il Sung Square, circled the plaza twice, and then returned to the palace.
A public memorial service will take place at midday Thursday and include an artillery salute, three minutes of silence and locomotives and vessels blowing their sirens, the North's Korean Central News Agency said.
The broadcast Wednesday showed footage of mourners wailing as they circled Kim's body lying in state on a bier bedecked with his namesake red "kimjongilia" begonias, a military orchestra playing revolutionary tunes honoring Kim, and black-and-white footage of a young Kim carrying out "on-the-spot" field guidance.
Kim is lying as though at rest, covered with a red flag, in a scene nearly identical to the mourning of Kim Il Sung in 1994, down to the voice of the tremulous broadcaster narrating the mourning.
Son Kim Jong Un paid another visit to the bier along with top party and military officials, KCNA said early Wednesday — his fifth during the mourning period.
The funeral for Kim Il Sung was expected to serve as a template for how Kim Jong Il will be mourned.
In 1994, the funeral began with a private ceremony attended by Kim Jong Il and top officials before a long procession through Pyongyang to Kim Il Sung Square, the main plaza in the capital, where hundreds of thousands of mourners were waiting.
North Koreans lined the streets and filled the air with theatrical wails, many of the women in traditional black dresses and with white mourning ribbons affixed to their hair.
A similar procession may be in the works for Wednesday, but with "kimjongilia" begonias replacing the magnolias, and snow and frost as a backdrop.
At the time, details about the funeral in a country largely isolated from the West were shrouded in mystery, revealed only after state TV aired segments of the events in what was the world's best glimpse of the hidden nation. Most foreigners aside from those living in North Korea were shut out, and the same is expected this week.
Footage Tuesday from Associated Press Television News in Pyongyang showed long lines of people carrying wreaths and bunches of white flowers toward a building with a huge picture of a smiling Kim Jong Il on its facade. They piled flowers beneath the photo, bowing and crying as they stood in the cold. Some pledged their loyalty to Kim Jong Un. Light traffic flowed through Pyongyang's streets, people drinking hot tea at makeshift tents set up on the sidewalks.
In the Chinese border city of Dandong, across the Yalu River from North Korea, dozens of people crowded into North Korea's consular offices in a high-rise building and into a North Korean restaurant across the street to watch the funeral on television.
Many were dressed in black and among them were North Koreans, identifiable by the Kim Il Sung badges on their lapels. Police shooed reporters away from both venues, keeping them behind cordons.
Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim, and Eugene Hoshiko in Dandong, contributed to this report. Follow Jean H. Lee at twitter.com/newsjean.
December 27, 2011 09:18 PM EST
Copyright 2011, The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.