Ri Chun Hee was tasked with the death announcement of the nation’s Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il. Dressed in funereal attire – a black, somber robe – the woman known as the voice of North Korea delivered the shocking announcement on the state television network run by the Korean Central News Agency, known as KCNA. Ri performed the same grim duty in 1994, following the death of Great Leader Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il’s father.
The North Korean people were alerted of an “important notice” to be released Monday at noon. It’s not clear if many North Koreans knew what to expect, as Kim’s heart problems were no secret, and he had even laid a succession plan in place. But without a doubt the loss of their Dear Leader was difficult to swallow. As she spoke live on air in front of a soothing forest backdrop, Ri Chun Hee’s usually forceful and enthusiastic delivery became halted and hesitant. The announcement culminated with tears in her eyes, an emotion certainly shared by millions of North Koreans.
The simple announcement began with Ri listing off the Dear Leader’s accolades and appointments, showing a deep reverence for the supreme leader. The short announcement contained few details, shrouding Kim Jong Il in a veil of secrecy and mystery, as the nation’s government often does.
“Kim Jong Il, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, chairman of the DPRK National Defence Commission and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army, passed away from a great mental and physical strain at 08:30 December 17, 2011, on train during a field guidance tour.”
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The announcement was followed by an outpouring of grief. Devastated North Koreans flocked to the streets, to squares bearing statues of the Dear Leader and his father, Eternal President Kim Il Sung. Young and old alike fell to their knees, overcome with emotion, as shown on state TV. Cries and wails pervaded as North Koreans paid tribute in front of the innumerable painting and impressions of Kim Jong Il splayed across the country.
KCNA notes their cries included pleas (“General, don’t go!”) and wails of disbelief (“General has not passed away!”). Showing the footage, the state TV channel memorialized Kim Jong Il with an overly propagandized statement: “They are getting the paved stones drenched with tears, feeling so regrettable as they can no longer see him whose smile was as broad as sunshine.” (Of course, others have been quick to point out that the tearful reactions could be the result of fear, rather than actual sadness.)
Despite visible grief, KCNA is rallying support for successor Kim Jong Un, the Dear Leader’s third son recently groomed as heir apparent.
“He is another great person produced by Korea who is identical to Kim Jong Il. No force on earth can block the revolutionary advance of our party, army and people wisely led by Kim Jong Un.”
PHOTOS: Grief Sweeps North Korea