Musicians in military garb played a mournful tune today on state television in North Korea, as foreign media reported that the isolated country had begun a funeral for its late leader Kim Jong Il.
Russia's Itar-Tass said the ceremony began in the North's capital, with the first phase taking place at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace where Kim's body had been lying in state.
North Korea's sole TV station, however, was showing only taped footage of mourners filing past Kim's begonia-bedecked bier, a military orchestra playing odes to Kim and archive footage of Kim making "on-the-spot" field trips.
At noon, a broadcaster read a news dispatch about Kim Jong Un visiting his father's bier on Tuesday with top party and military officials. He noted that Kim Jong Il's body had been lying in state in Kumsusan Memorial Palace, suggesting that the body has been moved.
A private ceremony attended by Kim Jong Un and top party and military officials was expected to be held in an inner sanctum of Kumsusan.
Foreign dignitaries were asked to gather at a sports stadium shortly before noon to be taken to Kumsusan to see the hearse pass at the start of a funeral procession through Pyongyang, according to a diplomat in Pyongyang.
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.
He is to be succeeded by Kim Jong Un, already being hailed by state media as the "supreme leader" of the party, state and army.
In an essay paying homage to Kim Jong Il today, the North's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said North Korea under his leadership had been "dignified as a country that manufactured and launched artificial satellites and accessed nukes," referring to the country's nuclear program.
"Thanks to these legacies, we do not worry about the destiny of ourselves and posterity at this time of national mourning," the essay said.
North Korea, it said, will be left in the "warm care" of Kim Jong Un.
"Supreme leader of our party and people Kim Jong Un takes warm care of the people left by Kim Jong Il. Every moment of Kim Jong Un's life is replete with loving care and solicitude for the people," the essay said.
Few details about the funeral have been made public, but the ceremonies were expected to follow the tradition set in 1994 with Kim Il Sung's death.
In July 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.
A public memorial service for Kim Jong Il 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.