AP Journalist: Announcement of Kim's death a shock

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 20 2011 6:40 a.m. MST

In this image made from AP video, Associated Press senior video journalist Rafael Wober reports in front of one of major meeting hall where hundreds of mourners line up to go and stand in front of the portrait of North Korea's long-time ruler Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, North Korea, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011. Wober, who manages the AP's video news bureau in Pyongyang, which opened in 2006, is one of the few outside reporters in North Korea covering the death of the longtime leader. (AP Photo)

The Associated Press

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PYONGYANG, North Korea — Associated Press senior video journalist Rafael Wober is one of the few outside reporters in North Korea covering the death of longtime leader Kim Jong Il. Wober, based in Hong Kong, has been visiting North Korea regularly for nearly a decade and manages the AP's video news bureau in Pyongyang, which opened in 2006. He spoke Tuesday afternoon outside a meeting hall in the North Korean capital.

Question: Tell us what the scene was like in Pyongyang as people learned of Kim Jong Il's death.

Wober: Well, the announcement came as a complete surprise. It was warned on state television that a special announcement was going to be made at midday on Monday, local time. But there was no hint as to what the content would be. As soon, though, as the announcer appeared wearing this black traditional Korean dress, it looked very serious and within seconds she got to the point. I was staying in a hotel, I went out, I could see immediately in the corridors hotel staff crying. In the restaurant and the shop downstairs, hotel staff in tears, sobbing.

Question: What is the mood like in the country and the capital at the moment?

Wober: All over the city you can see separate mourning events. Like here, outside one major meeting hall, hundreds of people are lining up to go and stand in front of the portrait of the deceased General Kim Jong Il — crying and wailing for a few minutes before they are moved along so that the next group can come up. This kind of thing is going on all over the city, and there is also a strong sense of mourning, in that the normal activity of shops and the normal way that people might drink, or eat, or enjoy themselves is basically discouraged during this period.

Question: Tell us about the successor to Kim Jong Il.

Wober: Kim Jong Un is largely thought to be unknown to foreigners. He did study in Switzerland when he was young. But since then, since he appeared on state media here — on television in September last year for the first time — he hasn't met many foreigners and most foreigners do not have a clear idea of his age or education.

Question: What can we expect to see during the national mourning period that has been declared?

Wober: The period of mourning has been set until the 28th and 29th. Those will be the major events. The 28th is supposed to be a long procession around the city with the body traveling on a bier. This is the laying-to-rest period on the 28th December. And then, on the 29th, there should be a gathering of senior leaders and officials of the country. A national funeral. Before then, it's likely there will be more of these individual events like you see behind me now, going on around the city and the country.

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