North Korea Mourns Dear Leader
Pyongyang residents react as they mourn over the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang

A black-clad newsreader fought back tears as she announced the death of North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong-il on Monday.

"It is the biggest loss for the party... and it is our people and nation's biggest sadness," she said in a voice choked with emotion.

Images of people expressing their grief at the passing of their "Dear Leader" have clogged the media, but despite the frenzy, there appears to be less hysteria than that which followed the announcement of the death of Kim Il-sung, the founding father of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the nation's "Great Leader."

The death of Kim Il-sung in 1994 provoked mass mourning and outpouring of grief from ordinary North Koreans, who prostrated themselves in front of statues of their "Eternal president" during the official ten day mourning period.

"All North Koreans can recall with extraordinary clarity where they were and what they were doing when they learned of Kim Il-sung's death," writes journalist Barbara Demick in her insightful book on the lives of people in North Korea. "It was a moment when the ordinary laws of time and perception were frozen by shock."

Dr Leonid Petrov, an expert on North Korea at the University of Sydney, said that the mourning period "will not be as dramatic as it was in 1994 when Kim Il-sung died.

"That was real trauma, exacerbated by the famine... political cynicism is growing."

Although Kim Jong-il is revered almost as much as his father was in North Korea, there are increasing reports of a growing political disenchantment in the country. Years of famine, poverty and lack of development have taken their toll on the population, who may not be as quick to believe the propaganda machine of the North Korean Communist party as they once were.

Fears of instability in the wake of Kim Jong-il's death and uncertainty over the country's nuclear strategy have prompted strong international reactions.

South Korea, which has technically been at war with North Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953, has placed its military on emergency alert.

A spokesman for Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda said he had set up a crisis management team on North Korea, while in the US the White House said Barack Obama was monitoring reports of the death.

"We remain committed to stability on the Korean peninsula, and to the freedom and security of our allies," a spokesman added.

There are also doubts as to the ruling ability of Kim Jong-un, the appointed successor of the "Dear Leader." He will be expected to continue the Communist dynasty founded by his grandfather nearly 100 years ago.

The young and inexperienced Kin Jong-un (believed to be 27) may well not have the political clout necessary to maintain stability in a country increasingly teetering on the brink of economic and social chaos.

What can we expect from Kim Jong-un when his father runs the country so badly that his people are starving to death?" asks Li, a North Korean woman interviewed by Demick in her book "Nothing to Envy."