PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea marked the end of a three-year mourning period for the late leader Kim Jong Il on Wednesday, opening the way for his son, Kim Jong Un, to put a more personal stamp on the way the country is run.
The anniversary of Kim Jong Il's death three years ago was observed by sirens ringing out across the country at noon. Trains, ships and cars sounded their horns and masses of North Koreans fell silent for three minutes as they bowed toward the mausoleum in Pyongyang where Kim Jong Il and his father, "eternal president" Kim Il Sung, lie in state.
It is a Korean custom to observe three years of mourning after the death of a parent.
The anniversary of the death of Kim Jong Il is not a public holiday, but activity slows, with people expected to take part in meetings exulting his memory and making a show of solemn behavior, not drinking alcohol and not taking part in any kind of entertainment.
With the mourning period now behind him, the younger Kim may be more likely to initiate new policies that underscore his own priorities and goals, though it is believed that major departures from his father's path are unlikely.
Since the death of his father, Kim Jong Un has indicated he wants to build the economy and improve the nation's standard of living, but he has also held firm to the North's longstanding — and extremely costly — focus on strengthening its military and developing its nuclear weapons capabilities.
Some indications of the course he intends to chart may become clearer in the annual New Year's message, which is usually either a speech or an editorial covered heavily in the North Korean media and watched closely by outside experts for hints of what North Korea's priorities are.
Attention is also focusing on when Kim will make his first trip abroad.
In a front-page story Wednesday, the Asahi, a major Japanese daily, reported that Kim, along with other heads of state, has been invited by Moscow to attend an event commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany.
The Asahi said the invitation for the May 9 event was extended when ruling party secretary Choe Ryong Hae was in Moscow last month to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Quoting anonymous diplomatic sources in Beijing, it said the possibility of a visit by Kim was raised by Choe.
Going to Russia before China would in itself be a strong political statement by Kim.
Though China is North Korea's closest ally, Pyongyang has been trying to improve its ties with Russia as its relations with Beijing have cooled amid Beijing's concerns over the North's nuclear tests and Pyongyang's fears that China is becoming too influential in the North's domestic economy.
AP Pyongyang bureau chief Eric Talmadge contributed to this report from Tokyo. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EricTalmadge