Photograph by Kyodo News/AFP/Getty Images.
UPDATE: Add "supreme leader" to Kim Jong-un's list of official titles.
North Korea on Thursday declared Kim Jong-il's son the head of the ruling party, its military and its people during a memorial for his late father. While it has been clear that the younger Kim was on track to succeed his father as head of the reclusive nation, Thursday's announcement was the first official public endorsement from the government.
The Associated Press with more: "A somber Kim, dubbed the Great Successor, attended the memorial as he stood with his head bowed at the Grand People's Study House, overlooking Kim Il Sung Square, named for his grandfather who founded modern North Korea. ... Life in Pyongyang came to a standstill as mourners packed the plaza from the Grand People's Study to the Taedong River for the second day of funeral ceremonies for the late leader."
Wednesday, Dec. 28: Tens of thousands of North Koreans braved freezing temperatures to catch a glimpse of the hearse carrying Kim Jong-il's body as it was driven through the snowy streets of Pyongyang on Wednesday, the first day of a two-day funeral the reclusive nation is holding for its late leader.
The Associated Press with the scene on the ground: "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. Kim then saluted again as goose-stepping soldiers carrying flags and rifles marched by."
The funeral will continue Thursday, with a memorial service. But analysts say that the focus will increasingly be on the younger Kim, as the North Korean regime attempts to cement him as the unquestioned successor to his father. "The message will be clear: Kim Jong-un now leads the country and there is no alternative," Kim Yeon-su, a North Korean expert at a South Korean university, told the AP.
Thursday, Dec. 22: And let the mythmaking begin!
Kim Jong-un may have to initially share power with a coterie of senior government officials, but that hasn't stopped the North Korean media from beginning a campaign to convince residents of the reclusive nation that King Jong-il's son is a worthy successor.
The Associated Press reports that North Korean outlets have begun referring to the younger Kim as the "outstanding leader." The nation's main paper, Rodong Simmun, for one, ran a lengthy editorial urging the country to "rally, rally and rally behind great comrade Kim Jong-un and faithfully uphold his leadership," and calling him "born of heaven."
It appears as though the media is making the younger Kim's bio up as they go along. For instance, while the U.S.'s best guess is that he is 27 years old, many observers suspect him to age relatively quickly over the next several weeks and celebrate his 30th birthday next month. That, according to the AP, would make for a "mystic convergence of numbers" in the eyes of many North Koreans, namely that Kim Jong-un would turn 30 in the same year that his father, Kim Jong-il, would have turned 70 and that his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, would have turned 100.
The wire has more details on how the media reported on the death of Kim Jong-il, known as "Dear Leader":
Ratcheting up the personality cult it builds around the Kim family, North Korea claimed that Kim Jong-il's death generated a series of spectacular natural phenomena, creating a mysterious glow atop a revered mountain, cracking a sheet of ice on a lake with a loud roar and inspiring a crane to circle a statue of the nation's founder before perching in a tree and drooping its head in sorrow.
[Slate's Will Oremus has more on how North Korean leaders get their nicknames, and how the younger Kim's nickname my evolve.]
As ridiculous as the propaganda campaign may sound outside of North Korea, it appears to be a relatively good sign, especially when taken with lack of protests. "This appears to be a relatively smooth transition on the peninsula, and we hope it stays that way," Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
Wednesday, Dec. 21: Reuters has this scoop out of North Korea: Kim Jong-il's son, Kim Jong-un, will share power with a group of political leaders that includes his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, according to a well-placed source with ties to Pyongyang.
If accurate, the report is the first to suggest that North Korea will in fact follow a course that many observers have anticipated given the younger Kim's relative lack of experience and young age. It would be the first time that the reclusive nation is governed by a group of people instead of an authoritarian ruler since it was founded in 1948.
The ruling coterie, which the younger Kim will lead, will also include Kim Kyong-hui, who is Jang's wife and was the elder Kim's sister, as well as Ri Young-ho, the military's most senior general.
According to Reuters' source, which reportedly had tipped the news organization off in the past, including about the North's first nuclear test in 2006 before it took place, said that the decision for the younger Kim to share power was made by the elder Kim before the mercurial leader died.
"The relative calm seen these few days shows it's been effective," the source explained. "If things were not running smoothly, then we'd have seen a longer period of 'rule by mummy,' with Kim Jong-il being faked as still being alive."
Tuesday, Dec. 20: Kim Jong-il's son and apparent successor, Kim Jong-un, paid his respects Tuesday to the late North Korean leader whose body is currently lying in state ahead of his funeral next week.
The Washington Post reports that Kim's body is on display in a glass case, surrounded by rows of the "Kimjongilia," the official state flower. "The deep red color of the blossoms matched the crimson blanket that covered Kim from the chest down," the paper explains. "His head rested atop a tubular pillow."
The reclusive nation has entered an 11-day period of official mourning, with flags at half-mast around the country, including at military bases, factories, farms, businesses and public buildings, according to the BBC reports. Kim's state funeral is set for Dec. 28.
Monday, Dec. 19: Kim Jong-il's funeral will be held Dec. 28 after a long period of national mourning. His body will lie in the same mausoleum where his revered father Kim Il-sung's corpse is kept in a glass case for for public display, the New York Times reports.
Meanwhile, the ruling Workers' Party and other state institutions have released a joint statement suggesting that Kim's youngest son and Kim Jong-un will succeed his father as the elder Kim had previously called for. The statement called the son "the great successor to the revolution" and "the eminent leader of the military and the people."
Still, despite the public endorsement, some observers are wondering aloud whether the fact that Kim's death from an apparent heart attack was kept secret for two days suggests that the reclusive nation could have a leadership struggle on its hands.
Regardless, South Korea and the rest of the region (and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the world) remains on edge in wake of the news. Further adding to the tension was reports that North Korea test-fired two short-range missiles off its east coast shortly before Kim's death was announced on state television. While North Korea has been test-firing similar missiles for years, the tests are often timed to coincide with periods of tension or uncertainty.
Sunday, Dec. 18 at 10:43 p.m.: Major news out of North Korea: Kim Jong-il is dead, the nation's state-run television reported Monday.
The communist leader died Saturday while on a train during a visit to an area outside of Pyongyang, a tearful state announcer, dressed in black, reported during a special midday broadcast.
The announcer said that Kim died of mental and physical overexertion. The mercurial leader was believed to have had diabetes and heart disease, and to have suffered a stroke in 2008. But, as the Associated Press notes, the 69-year-old had since appeared "relatively vigorous in photos and video from recent trips to China and Russia and in numerous trips around the country carefully documented by state media," making Monday's news that much more of a surprise.
South Korea reacted to the announcement by putting its military on alert and calling an emergency meeting of its National Security Council, the Yonhap news agency reported.
In September of 2010, Kim announced that his third son, twenty-something Kim Jung-un, would succeed him. The elder Kim replaced his own father, revered North Korean founder Kim Il-sung, as leader in 1994.
The New York Times appears to have been first to have its obit up. Here's a snippet:
"Called the 'Dear Leader' by his people, Mr. Kim, the son of North Korea’s founder, remained an unknowable figure. Everything about him was guesswork, from the exact date and place of his birth, to the mythologized events of his rise in a country formed by the hasty division of the Korean Peninsula at the end of World War II. ...
"Short and round, he wore elevator shoes, oversize sunglasses and a bouffant hairdo — a Hollywood stereotype of the wacky post-cold war dictator. Mr. Kim himself was fascinated by film. He orchestrated the kidnapping of an actress and a director, both of them South Koreans, in an effort to build a domestic movie industry. He was said to keep a personal library of 20,000 foreign films, including the complete James Bond series, his favorite. But he rarely saw the outside world, save from the windows of his luxury train, which occasionally took him to China."