Huge crowds mourn late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il on third anniversary of his death

North Koreans bow to bronze statues of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung (left) and Kim Jong Il at Mansudae in Pyongyang. -- PHOTO: REUTERS/KYODO
North Koreans bow to bronze statues of late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung (left) and Kim Jong Il at Mansudae in Pyongyang. -- PHOTO: REUTERS/KYODO

SEOUL (AFP) - North Korean television showed tens of thousands of mourners bowing before a huge statue of Kim Jong Il, as the regime marked the third anniversary of the former leader's death on Wednesday.

Wrapped up against the biting cold, endless rows of people were shown paying their respects to a 22m-tall statue of the late leader and his father on Mansu Hill in Pyongyang, the epicentre of the personality cult surrounding the ruling Kim dynasty. "Despite the freezing December weather this morning, our heart for him grows warmer and our loyalty becomes stronger," said a commentator on state broadcaster Korean Central TV.

Mourners bowed deeply and laid bouquets of flowers at the foot of the statue of Kim Jong Il, who ruled the secretive communist nation for 17 years before his death in 2011, when his son Kim Jong Un became leader. "We yearn to see the gracious Father General," the Korean Central TV commentator said, praising the late leader for developing nuclear weapons. "In the Marshall, however, we see the General live eternally," she added, in reference to Mr Kim Jong Un.

Pyongyang newspaper Rodong Sinmun splashed its pages with pictures of the late leader and articles idolising him, saying in a frontpage banner that Kim would "live forever as the Sun".

Mr Kim Jong Un, accompanied by top party and military officials, was expected to pay homage at Kimsusan Palace of the Sun, a mausoleum in Pyongyang where the embalmed bodies of his father and grandfather are preserved.

The leader will then likely take part in a mass gathering in Pyongyang honouring his father.

Workers and students have held meetings nationwide to mourn the late dictator and pledge loyalty to his son, according to state media.

The North this week accused the United States of seeking to topple its regime through allegations of human rights abuses, and threatened to hit back with its "toughest-ever counteraction".

The comments came with the United Nations Security Council due to meet next week to discuss North Korea's rights record amid calls for Pyongyang to be referred to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

A UN inquiry released a report in February charging that North Korea has committed human rights abuses "without parallel in the contemporary world", documenting a vast network of harsh prison camps holding up to 120,000 people along with cases of torture, summary executions and rape.

North Korea has in turn asked the UN to investigate the United States after Central Intelligence Agency torture revelations last week, which the North called "the gravest human rights violations in the world".