Kim Jong-il's funeral clouded in secrecy

Late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il kept the world guessing in death as in life, with state media keeping quiet about the timing and details of his funeral Wednesday.

Late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il kept the world guessing in death as in life, with state media keeping quiet about the timing and details of his funeral Wednesday.

The man revered in his country as "Dear Leader," who died of heart failure Dec. 17 at age 69, will be honoured during ceremonies Wednesday and Thursday, and hundreds of thousands of people are expected to gather in the capital to mourn.

Foreign news agencies based in Pyongyang, including Russia's ITAR-Tass and Chi na's Xinhua new agencies, reported late Wednesday morning that a funeral had begun.

North Korea's sole TV station, however, was showing only taped footage of sobbing mourners filing past Kim's begonia-bedecked bier, a military orchestra playing odes to Kim and archive footage of Kim making "on-the-spot" field trips.

At noon, a broadcaster in a dark suit gravely read out a news dispatch about Kim Jong Un visiting his father's bier on Tuesday with top party and military officials. He noted that Kim Jong-il's body had been lying in state in Kumsusan Memorial Palace, suggesting the body was moved.

A private ceremony attended by Kim Jong-un and top party and military officials was expected to be held in an inner sanctum of Kumsusan. Foreign dignitaries were asked to gather at a sports stadium shortly before noon to be taken to Kumsusan to see the hearse pass at the start of a funeral procession through Pyongyang, according to a diplomat contacted in Pyongyang on Wednesday.

Heavy snow was falling in Pyongyang, which state media characterized in the early days of mourning as proof that the skies were "grieving" for Kim as well.

There was no sign yet of his son.

State media have not described how events will proceed, but they released one report saying Kim Jong-un has instructed the city to keep mourners warm in sub-zero temperatures, with hot water and tea.

Kim Jong-il is lying in state at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace.

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On Saturday, a week after Kim Jong-il's death, state media referred to his third and youngest son as supreme leader of North Korea's armed forces.

Kim Jong-un attended a wake at the palace on Monday and could be seen wiping away tears.

The young leader-in-waiting was referred to in the Rodong Sinmun newspaper as head of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party. Rodong Sinmum is the official newspaper of the party.

The funeral for Kim Jong-il, who made it state policy to revere his father as North Korea's "eternal" president, will likely be similar to Kim-il Sung's but probably not outdo it, said Prof. Jeong Jin-gook of the Daejeon Health Sciences College in South Korea.

"Kim Il Sung still remains the most respected among North Koreans," he said of the man who died in 1994.

A display of weapons may also be a way to demonstrate that the North Korean military remains loyal to the succession process," said Ahn Chan-il of the World Institute for North Korea Studies in South Korea. "There may even be a small-scale military parade involving airplanes."

South Korea's former first lady paid a visit to the North Korean capital on Monday to offer condolences to Kim Jong-un. Lee Hee Ho is the widow of former South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung.

With files from The Associated Press