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Memorial service begins for Kim Jong Il

PYONGYANG, North Korea, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- North Koreans Thursday began a memorial service for their late leader Kim Jong Il, a day after an elaborate funeral procession shown live on state TV.

"Volleys were fired and all the servicepersons and people observed a 3 minute silence in memory of leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang and provincial seats at noon sharp Thursday when the national memorial service was under way …." State news agency KCNA reported. "Locomotives and ships (those on voyage included) blew whistles and those units with sirens sounded them all at once."

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Kim Jong Il -- who succeeded his father and the nation's founder Kim Il Sung and remained at the helm for 17 years -- died Dec. 17 of a heart attack. During his rule, Kim Jong Il turned North Korea into a nuclear-armed isolated country even as millions of his people faced severe food shortages amid worsening economy.

In an essay, state newspaper Rodong Sinmun praised Kim Jong Il for his "immense ideological and theoretical feats," noting North Korea, under his leadership, "has been dignified as a country that manufactured and launched artificial satellites and accessed nukes."

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His youngest son, Kim Jong Un, about 27, designated as the new leader, was prominently shown leading the funeral procession witnessed by thousands of people.

KCNA described the young Kim, about whom little is known, as "vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the WPK (Workers' Party of Korea) and supreme leader of the party, state and army of" North Korea.

"People from all walks of life packed memorial venues associated with the leadership feats of the peerlessly great persons," KCNA reported. "The Koreans, recollecting in tears Kim Jong Il's whole life of heroic dedication to the country, the revolution and the people, are keenly realizing what a great man and legendary strong man they had been led by."

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The report said the country will prosper "forever as long as there is the dear respected Kim Jong Un identical to Kim Jong Il."

During Wednesday's funeral procession along the 25-mile memorial route, China's Xinhua news agency reported "the public never stopped their outpouring of grief," adding despite their sorrow, "residents in Pyongyang are looking to the future" led by their new leader.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency said Kim Jong Il's body lies in state at Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang, also the resting place of his father.

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The report said Thursday's memorial service would be an official proclamation that Kim Jong Un will now lead the country.

The BBC reported the new leader will be guided by his uncle, Chang Song Taek, a senior figure and brother-in-law of the late leader. It said Kim Jong Il's two older sons were not seen at the funeral.

The report said it is too early to say whether the new team would try to control the country as firmly as the late leader.

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