Kim Jong-il death: North Korea pays last respects

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionMourners including Kim Jong-il's son and heir, Kim Jong-un, paid their respects

Kim Jong-il's son and heir, Kim Jong-un, and senior officials have been paying their last respects to the late North Korean leader whose body lies in state ahead of his funeral next week.

Kim Jong-il died on Saturday of a heart attack caused by overwork and stress at the age of 69, state media said.

Regional powers have voiced fears over the nuclear country's future course.

The US has called on North Korea to pursue a "path of peace". It has promised to defend regional allies.

Kim Jong-il, who had been in power since the death of father Kim Il-sung in 1994, will be buried on 28 December.

The country has entered an 11-day period of official mourning, with flags being flown at half-mast at all military bases, factories, businesses, farms and public buildings.

Kim Jong-il's body is in a room of the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, a mausoleum where Kim Il-sung's embalmed body has been on display in a glass sarcophagus since 1994.

His funeral bier is surrounded by flowers, including a hybrid red begonia named "kimjongilia" in his honour and white chrysanthemums.

The streets of Pyongyang are quiet, but throngs of people have gathered at landmarks honouring Mr Kim, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Outside one major meeting hall, hundreds of people are lining up to go and stand in front of the portrait of the deceased general, crying and wailing for a few minutes before being moved along so that the next group can come up, an APTN reporter at the scene says.

North Korean state media said its people continued to grieve late into the night.

How much of this is genuine rather than highly choreographed propaganda is difficult to know, says the BBC's John Sudworth in Seoul.

Kim Jong-il had been in the process of formalising his third son, Kim Jong-un, as his successor.

But the transition had not been completed and analysts fear Mr Kim's death could trigger a period of instability in the internationally isolated nuclear-armed state.

The worry is that Kim Jong-un, less than 30 years old and a complete unknown quantity, may lack the political skill to hang on to power. A power struggle with other family members or the military elite is a worrying possibility, our correspondent says.

Kim Jong-un was first introduced in public as Kim Jong-il's earmarked successor in September 2010.

Regional worries

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US was ready to help the North Korean people and create lasting security on the Korean peninsula.

Around the region, countries have been holding urgent talks about what the implications of Mr Kim's death might be.

South Korea, whose military has been put on alert in the wake of Mr Kim's death, has sent its condolences to the North Korean people.

Its failure to express condolences after the death of Kim Il-sung in 1994 affected relations between the two states for years.

South Korea says no official delegation will be travelling from Seoul to Pyongyang to pay their respects, but that a limited number of prominent people would be allowed to visit the North.

North Korean officials have said they will not invite foreign delegations, AP reports.

The South Korea government has also increased its alert level against possible cyber attacks from Pyongyang.

But it says it will reconsider a plan to display Christmas lights near the border - something that angers North Korea.

Chinese President Hu Jintao, meanwhile, has visited the North Korean embassy in Beijing to offer his condolences.

China has said it has held talks over the phone with the US and South Korea on the importance of ensuring security on the Korean peninsula.

Late on Monday, the Chinese foreign minister also met the North Korean envoy in Beijing, the agency reported.

China is North Korea's closest ally and its biggest trading partner.

It is keen to avoid a power struggle that could bring further instability to the region or any kind of collapse that would send a tide of North Korean refugees across its border.

Kim Jong-un, hailed by North Korean media as the "Great Successor", is believed to have visited China on at least one occasion in recent months.