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Mood In North Korean Capital Is 'Subdued But Calm,' U.K. Diplomat Says

This image taken today from North Korean TV footage shows people mourning for Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang.
AFP/Getty Images
This image taken today from North Korean TV footage shows people mourning for Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang.

While North Koreans in Pyongyang are "in a state of mourning and ... paying their respects at landmarks across the city," the overall mood is "subdued but calm" as people there react to Saturday's death of leader Kim Jong Il and the likelihood that his son Kim Jong Un is now in charge, according to one of Britain's diplomats in the capital city.

The Los Angeles Times reports this morning that those comments from Barnaby Jones, first secretary at Britain's embassy in Pyongyang, are the first such report from a diplomat "with a bird's-eye view of Pyongyang in the days after the death of Kim Jong Il."

The Korea Herald adds that Jones, in a telephone conversation with reporters, also said:

"In terms of what we have seen on the streets we have seen groups of schoolchildren going to and from locations where they have been standing in front of monuments or murals of Kim Il-sung or Kim Jong-il, as well as other groups of people. At the biggest monuments or the biggest locations where people can stand those groups get much, much larger.

"In most places across the city I would say that we are not seeing crowds, we are seeing large groups and it is all very orderly."

His descriptions conflict somewhat with the tone of reports and images being distributed by North Korea's official news agencies, which have described and shown weeping and anguished people. Whether such reports are in fact true and whether any such displays of emotion are in fact genuine are uncertain, however, in a police state such as North Korea.

Jones also told reporters that Kim Jong Un had been receiving visits from foreign diplomats. The BBC says hat would seem to confirm "that he is indeed now in charge."

Meanwhile, South Korea's Yonhap News reports that a group of North Korean defectors in Paju, South Korea, "launched balloons carrying leaflets into the North on Wednesday, criticizing a power succession in the communist country after the death of its leader last week. ... Some 50 members of an emergency committee comprising 37 of the country's human rights groups for North Korean defectors launched 10 balloons carrying millions of anti-North Korean leaflets from Imjingak pavilion just south of the inter-Korean border."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott
Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.