North Korea marks 10th anniversary of Kim Jong-il’s death with call for unity and ‘ban on laughing’

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  • Kim Jong-il
    Kim Jong-il
    General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea (1941-2011)
  • Kim Jong-un
    Kim Jong-un
    General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea and 3rd Supreme leader of North Korea
File: People walk beneath huge pictures of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il displayed from the Parade Reviewing Stand in Kim il-Sung Square, on 23 August 2018 in Pyongyang, North Korea (Getty Images)
File: People walk beneath huge pictures of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il displayed from the Parade Reviewing Stand in Kim il-Sung Square, on 23 August 2018 in Pyongyang, North Korea (Getty Images)

North Koreans are marking the 10th death anniversary of their country’s former leader Kim Jong-il by falling silent and bowing in respect, flying national flags at half mast and undertaking pilgrimages to Mansu Hill to bow before the statues of the former leader and his father Kim Il-sung.

Sirens in the capital Pyongyang blared for three minutes at midday on Friday to order the country’s citizens to bow in respect to commemorate the death anniversary, reported the Associated Press.

Vehicles, including trains and ships, blew their horns to mark the anniversary as well.

State-run media marked the occasion with calls for citizens to strengthen their loyalty for Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il’s son and successor.

Later in the day on Friday, state television broadcasts showed Mr Kim alongside hundreds of officials taking part in a ceremony outside the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in the capital, where the bodies of Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il Sung lie in state under glass.

Clad in a black leather coat, Kim Jong-un stood sombrely beneath a large red banner emblazoned with an image of his father, but was not shown speaking.

One report by Radio Free Asia (RFA), a nonprofit funded by the US government, cited an unidentified resident of border city Sinuiju as saying that the country had imposed an 11-day ban on laughing, drinking and shopping to mark the anniversary.

Citizens will not be able to shop for groceries and those found flouting the rules — showing any signs of happiness or merriment — shall be arrested, RFA reported.

“During the mourning period, we must not drink alcohol, laugh or engage in leisure activities,” the Sinuiju resident was quoted as saying.

He said crying out loud, even if a family member died, was banned during the mourning period. “Even if your family member dies during the mourning period, you are not allowed to cry out loud and the body must be taken out after it’s over.”

Kim Jong-il ruled North Korea from 1994 until his death in 2011 from a heart attack, when he was 69 years old.

If anyone’s birthday falls during the mourning period, reports said they are not allowed to celebrate it.

The unnamed citizen said that “in the past, many people who were caught drinking or being intoxicated during the mourning period were arrested and treated as ideological criminals.

“They were taken away and never seen again,” he said.

The mourning period for the former leader used to be 10 days, but was increased this year to 11 days.

Another unidentified source from North Korea told RFA that “from the first day of December, they will have a special duty to crack down on those who harm the mood of collective mourning.

“It’s a month-long special duty for the police. I heard that law enforcement officials cannot sleep at all,” the source said.

An editorial in the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper said: “Great leader and comrade Kim Jong-il is always with us... and he is the eternal ‘suryong’ and sun of ‘juche’ [self-reliance] of our party and revolution.

“He is, indeed, the greatest man and the great sage of the revolution all the people on this land follow with their deep affection and sincerity,” it continued.

Suryong and Juche are titles for North Korean leaders.

Some citizens have voiced concern about the mourning period and how it disrupted lives of citizens. “I just hope that the mourning period for Kim Jong-il will be shortened to one week, just like the mourning period for Kim Il-sung,” a source said.

The anniversary comes at a time when North Korea is believed to be facing dire food shortages, and with a complete standstill in talks aimed at easing international sanctions in exchange for curbs on the hermit kingdom’s nuclear programme.

“The pandemic is constraining North Korea’s diplomacy, decimating its economy, and making border controls its number one security issue,” said Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. “The Kim regime is preoccupied with internal challenges as it holds high-level party and military meetings focused on maintaining loyalty and discipline.

“North Korea marked the 10-year memorial of Kim Jong-il with public ceremonies and state propaganda. More significant will be Kim Jong-un’s attempt, after a decade in power, to map out a credible path for post-pandemic diplomacy and economic recovery.”

Mr Easley suggested that, with pressure growing on Mr Kim to provide answers to North Korea’s critical food crisis, he may well present a detailed plan soon at either a key meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party in late December or in a New Year’s statement to the nation.

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