Thousands of North Koreans gather for Kim Jong Il memorial

Thousands pay respects to Kim Jong Il
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Story highlights

  • Artillery fire and blaring horns commemorate Kim Jong Il's life
  • Speeches at the ceremony proclaim his son Kim Jong Un as 'supreme leader'
  • The service takes place a day after the elder Kim's three-hour funeral procession
  • His death earlier this month has created uncertainty about the country's stability

Huge crowds assembled in Pyongyang on Thursday at a national memorial service for the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the second day of state-orchestrated ceremonies to mourn the dictator who died earlier this month.

The authoritarian regime used a mixture of somber music, hyperbolic speeches, booming artillery fire and blaring horns to honor the man who oversaw 17 years of despotic rule in the secretive nation.

The ceremony took place a day after a funeral procession for Kim spent three hours winding through the snow-laden streets of Pyongyang lined with thousands of wailing mourners.

Once again, the regime placed Kim Jong Un, the son and chosen successor of Kim Jong Il, at the center of proceedings, proclaiming him the "supreme leader" of North Korea -- a fresh indication that the leadership transition is progressing smoothly.

The footage broadcast Thursday by North Korean state television showed thick rectangular blocks of people gathered in the snowy expanse of Kim Il Sung Square -- named after Kim Jong Il's father, the founder of North Korea.

North Korean TV shows tens of thousands at the memorial for Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang Thursday.

Kim Jong Un and other senior members of the regime stood solemnly on a viewing platform overlooking the square.

During the ceremony, a string of top officials took to the microphone to praise Kim Jong Il's life and reinforce Kim Jong Un's leadership credentials.

"Kim Jong Un is the supreme leader who has inherited Kim Jong Il's beliefs, leadership, courage and guts," said Kim Yong Nam, the president of the North Korean parliament.

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"Kim Jong Il's great achievements will shine forever," said Kim Ki Nam, a senior official in the powerful Worker's Party. "Following our party's supreme leader, Kim Jong Un, we are converting our sadness to courage and we will achieve great things."

Under Kim Jong Il, the country suffered a devastating famine even as it built up its million-strong army, expanded its arsenal of ballistic missiles and became the world's eighth declared nuclear power.

He died on December 17, reportedly from a heart attack. News of his death, announced two days later, put the region on edge and set off speculation around the world about the country's stability and future direction.

For the time being, Kim Jong Un appears to be rallying support within the regime, despite his young age -- he is thought to be in his late 20s -- and relative inexperience.

After the speeches Thursday, a row of heavy guns fired off a salute. Then, a cacophony of horns and sirens went off, drawing the service -- and the last day of official mourning -- to a close.