PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea’s power transition to Kim Jong Il’s young son appeared to be going smoothly Thursday, with state media calling him “outstanding leader” and no signs of unrest on the capital’s streets or unusual troop movements.
Foreign governments have focused intense scrutiny on North Korea since Kim’s death was announced Monday, because of concerns over his untested heir’s rise in a country with a nuclear program, 1.2-million strong military and a history deep animosity toward its neighbors.
Tens of thousands of North Koreans continued to mourn on Pyongyang’s streets for the man who led the country for 17 years as it struggled with famine and exasperated the United States and its allies with a steady push to build nuclear weapons. State media said U.S. and South Korean military officials said there had been no unusual military movements by the North Koreans in recent days.
“This appears to be a relatively smooth transition on the peninsula, and we hope it stays that way,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said in Washington, adding that there has been no increase in force protection levels for U.S. troops in South Korea.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, meanwhile, sought to assure Pyongyang that his country was “not hostile” toward its neighbor despite putting its front-line troops on alert since Kim’s death was announced.
South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Yoon Won-sik said North Korea’s military isn’t showing any particular movement and that the South’s troops are operating normally despite the alert.
In a clear signal to North Korea’s people and the outside world, the North’s main newspaper Rodong Sinmun in a lengthy editorial urged the country to “rally, rally and rally behind great comrade Kim Jong Un and faithfully uphold his leadership.”
It called him “the outstanding leader of our party, military and people and a great successor.”
Ratcheting up the personality cult it builds around the Kim family, North Korea claimed that Kim Jong Il’s death generated a series of spectacular natural phenomena, creating a mysterious glow atop a revered mountain, cracking a sheet of ice on a lake with a loud roar and inspiring a crane to circle a statue of the nation’s founder before perching in a tree and drooping its head in sorrow.
Dramatic scenes of mourning in the capital have continued nearly nonstop since Monday’s announcement of Kim’s death, which the government says happened two days earlier when he suffered a massive heart attack while on a train.
Tens of thousands packed Pyongyang’s snowy main square Wednesday to pay respects to him. Women held handkerchiefs to their faces as they wept and filed past a huge portrait of a smiling Kim hanging on the Grand People’s Study House, in the spot where a photograph of Kim Il Sung, Kim’s deceased father and the country’s founder, usually hangs.
Despite the signs that North Korea is consolidating power behind Kim Jong Un, worries remain high in the region over possible instability.
Chinese boatmen along a river separating North Korea and China told The Associated Press that North Korean police have ordered them to stop giving rides to tourists, saying they will fire on the boats if they see anyone with cameras.
Kim Jong Il ruled the country for 17 years after inheriting power from his father, who died in 1994. Kim Jong Un only entered the public view last year and remains a mystery to most of the world.
South Korean military officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of office policies that restrict comment on intelligence matters, confirmed that North Korea has ordered its troops to be vigilant but said that this doesn’t mean they’re moving.
The young Kim led a procession of senior officials Tuesday in a viewing of his father’s body, which is being displayed in a glass coffin near that of Kim Il Sung. Publicly presiding over the funeral proceedings was an important milestone for the son, strengthening his image as the country’s political face at home and abroad.
According to official media, more than 5 million North Koreans have gathered at monuments and memorials in the capital since Kim’s death.
The North has declared an 11-day period of mourning that will culminate in a state funeral and a national memorial service on Dec. 28-29.