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Asia-pacific

Pregnancy rumours swirl at Kim Jong-il's memorial

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-12-17

North Korea marked one year since the death of leader Kim Jong-il on Monday and celebrated a successful rocket launch last week as images of successor Kim Jong-un’s wife appeared to confirm suspicions that the couple are expecting their first child.

North Koreans across the country stopped in their tracks at midday on Monday to silently honour former ruler Kim Jong-il, whose death one year ago swept his untested 20-something son to power.

Pyongyang construction workers took off their yellow hard hats and bowed at the waist as sirens wailed across the city for three minutes. Heir Kim Jong-un presided over a solemn ceremony to reopen the sprawling granite mausoleum where his father’s embalmed remains will lie in state near those of his grandfather, the nation’s founder Kim Il-sung.

Tens of thousands of North Koreans gathered in the frigid plaza outside the renovated hall where Kim Jong-il’s body was to go on public display later Monday. Lined with snow-tinged firs, the square has been turned into a park at Kim Jong-un’s orders and his father’s portrait installed on the building’s façade alongside that of Kim Il-sung.

The elder Kim died last December 17 from a heart attack while traveling on his train. His death was famously followed by scenes of North Koreans dramatically wailing in the streets of Pyongyang, and of his pudgy young son leading ranks of uniformed and gray-haired officials through a series of funeral and mourning rites.

But the country may soon have something to celebrate as television pictures showed that the wife of the country’s leader appeared to be pregnant with what would be a fourth generation of its hereditary dictatorship.

Fashionable Ri Sol-ju, who caused quite a stir when she emerged on the national scene back in July, swapped her normal designer attire for a funereal black hanbok, the high-waisted, loose-fitting traditional Korean dress.

The images of her rounded shape appeared to confirm pregnancy rumours that followed her disappearance from the public eye in September. North Korean media has yet to make an official announcement.

Rocket pride

The mood in the capital was decidedly more upbeat than a year ago, with some of the euphoria carrying over from last week’s successful launch of a rocket carrying a satellite named for one of Kim Jong-il’s many titles, Kwangmyongsong, or “Lode Star,” a nickname given to him at birth according to the official lore.

FOCUS: NORTH KOREA ROCKET LAUNCH

Speaking outside the mausoleum, renamed the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, the military’s top political officer, Choe Ryong-hae, said North Korea should be proud of the satellite, calling it a show of strength to the world.

Much of the rest of the world, however, was swift in condemning the launch, which was seen by the United States and other nations as a thinly disguised cover for testing missile technology that could someday be used for a nuclear warhead.

The test, which potentially violates a United Nations ban on North Korean missile activity, underlined Kim Jong-un’s determination to continue carrying out his father’s hardline policies even if they draw international condemnation.

Some outside experts worry that Pyongyang’s next move will be to press ahead with a nuclear test in the coming weeks, a necessary next step toward building a warhead small enough to be carried by a long-range missile.

Despite inviting further isolation for his impoverished nation and the threat of stiffer sanctions, Kim Jong-un won national prestige and clout by going ahead with the rocket launch.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2012-12-17

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