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Flags and flowers on Lunar New Year in North Korea
Pyongyang springs to life again as NKoreans pay respects to late leader Kim on Lunar New Year
By The Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) ' Soldiers and children, bundled up against the freezing cold, lined up Monday at Pyongyang's main plaza to pay their respects again to late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il on the first day of the Lunar New Year holiday.

A massive portrait of a smiling Kim that had been removed after a mourning period following his Dec. 17 death was restored at Kim Il Square. People scurried across the vast plaza to get in line to bow and place flowers, including his namesake "kimjongilia" begonias, in piles beneath the portrait. The song "It's Snowing" blared from loudspeakers, a reminder of Kim's solemn funeral procession through the capital's snowy streets late last month.

For several weeks after Kim's funeral, Pyongyang was barren and somber. But almost overnight the city has filled with color again. North Korea's red, white and blue national flag fluttered from signposts. Banners celebrating "Juche 101" ' the current year, according to the North Korean calendar, which begins with the 1912 birth of national founder Kim Il Sung ' and posters marking the holiday were pinned to buildings and walls.

One sign read, "The power of single-hearted unity ' congratulations on New Year's Day."

At the plaza in front of the Pyongyang Grand Theater, hundreds of children scampered and shouted as they played traditional Korean games. Signs in front of the theater spelled out "We are happy" in big, bold letters. In a large square, groups of children from the surrounding district gathered to jump rope, fly kites and practice taekwondo, their breaths steaming in the cold weather.

"Our great general gave instructions to bring up children educated with national character from their childhood by encouraging folk games," teacher Yu Un Ju told AP.

Pyongyang residents said they were encouraged to celebrate the traditional holiday as they usually do, despite the death of Kim Jong Il, only the second person to lead North Korea since it was founded in 1948. State television aired a segment late Sunday on making rice cake soup, a traditional New Year's meal in both Koreas.

The holiday comes as new leader Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il's son, visits military units.

Outside observers have questioned whether Kim Jong Un ' who's believed to be in his late 20s ' is ready to rule a country of 24 million with a nuclear program and chronic food shortages.

But the North has dismissed such worries, and state media have produced reports and images meant to show that Kim has strong military and governing experience. Late last week, North Korea credited Kim Jong Un with spearheading past nuclear testing and said he was "fully equipped" with the qualities of an extraordinary general.

Kim Jong Un, anointed his father's successor at least three years ago, was declared "supreme leader" of the North Korean people, party and military after his father's death. He has pledged to uphold his father's "military first" policy.

The new era of leadership comes as North Korea prepares to celebrate the 100th anniversary in April of the birth of Kim's grandfather, late President Kim Il Sung.


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