SEOUL, South Korea - Musicians in military garb played a mournful tune on state television in North Korea on Wednesday, as foreign media reported that the isolated country had begun a funeral for late leader Kim Jong Il.
Russia's ITAR-Tass said in a short report that the ceremony began in the North's capital, with the first phase taking place at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, where Kim's body was lying in state.
The North's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said earlier Wednesday that a hearse carrying Kim's body would be driven through the streets of Pyongyang.
Kim, who led the nation with an iron fist after the death of his father, Kim Il Sung, in 1994, died of a heart attack Dec. 17 at age 69, according to state media.
He is to be succeeded by his son Kim Jong Un, already being hailed by state media as the "supreme leader" of the party, state, and army.
For 11 days since Kim's death was announced, hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have made round-the-clock visits in freezing weather to bow and lay flowers at huge portraits of the late leader in a theatrical show of grief similar to the one for his father.
Heavy snow was falling in Pyongyang on Wednesday, foreign diplomats reached by e-mail in the capital said. State media provided no details of the proceedings, and the nation's sole TV station was not showing the funeral live.
However, foreign dignitaries were asked to gather at a stadium by late Wednesday morning for a funeral procession through Pyongyang.
In 1994, Kim Il Sung's funeral procession - led by a massive portrait of the late president and followed by his flag-draped coffin on top of a hearse - lasted several hours as it crawled from the Kumsusan palace to central Kim Il Sung Square, circled the plaza twice, and then returned to the palace.
A public memorial service will take place at midday Thursday and include an artillery salute, three minutes of silence, and locomotives and vessels blowing their sirens, the North's Korean Central News Agency said.
The broadcast Wednesday showed footage of mourners wailing as they circled Kim's body lying in state on a bier bedecked with his namesake red "kimjongilia" begonias, a military orchestra playing revolutionary tunes honoring Kim, and black-and-white footage of a young Kim carrying out "on-the-spot" field guidance.
Kim was lying as though at rest, covered with a red flag, in a scene nearly identical to the mourning of Kim Il Sung in 1994, down to the voice of the tremulous broadcaster narrating the mourning.
Son Kim Jong Un paid another visit to the bier along with top party and military officials, KCNA said early Wednesday - his fifth during the mourning period.
The funeral for Kim Il Sung was expected to serve as a template for how Kim Jong Il will be mourned.
In 1994, the funeral began with a private ceremony attended by Kim Jong Il and top officials before a long procession through Pyongyang to Kim Il Sung Square, the main plaza in the capital.
North Koreans lined the streets and filled the air with theatrical wails, many of the women in traditional black dresses and with white mourning ribbons affixed to their hair.
A similar procession may be in the works for Wednesday, but with "kimjongilia" begonias replacing the magnolias, and snow and frost as a backdrop.