Newlyweds, soldiers at North Korea memorial to Kims

PYONGYANG (AFP) – North Korean newlyweds, soldiers and children lined up to laud their country’s rulers on Thursday, the birthday of the late Kim Jong-il, father of both the current leader and the exiled renegade assassinated in Malaysia this week.

A steady stream of celebrants made their way to a hill in the centre of Pyongyang where a giant bronze statue of Kim Il-sung, founder of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the family dynasty, looks out over the capital, arm outstretched.

Beside him stands an effigy of his heir Kim Jong-il, whose youngest son Kim Jong-un now leads the country, and whose first-born, playboy and occasional regime critic Kim Jong-nam, was murdered in Malaysia this week, with Seoul blaming two female North Korean agents.

Over the course of the day, thousands of people lined up, laid a flower, bouquet or basket – all featuring Kimjongilia, the red flower named after the late leader – and bowed.

“The great president Kim Il-Sung and great leader Kim Jong-Il will always be with us,” read ribbons attached to the baskets.

A group of children pose for a group photo as they visit the statues of late North Korean leaders Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il to pay their respects on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the birth of Kim Jong-Il, at Mansudae hill in Pyongyang, on February 16. - AFP
A group of children pose for a group photo as they visit the statues of late North Korean leaders Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il to pay their respects on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the birth of Kim Jong-Il, at Mansudae hill in Pyongyang, on February 16. – AFP

Retired financial official Kim Myong-hui said she made hers herself.

“It is the birthday of our great leader,” the 51-year-old told AFP, her voice trembling. “We come to the hill to pay our respects every year because comrade Kim Jong-il lives eternally in the hearts of the people.

“Even though he has passed away, he is always in my heart.”

North Korea’s official media have made no mention of Kim Jong-nam’s killing in Malaysia and it is unlikely many of the attendees will have been aware of it.

Some were in organised groups, many were family outings because the Day of the Shining Star, as February 16 is known, is the start of a two-day public holiday in the North and a popular time to wed.

“We came here to show the great president and great comrade first that we have become a married couple,” said Kang Un-chol, 31.

His new wife Ri Hyang-sun, 27, added: “Coming here on the birthday of our great comrade Kim Jong-il for my wedding, I can passionately feel in my heart how happy our new generation is in our nation that was created by our great president.”