PYONGYANG

- North Korea's next leader escorted his father's hearse in an elaborate state funeral on a bitter, snowy day yesterday, bowing and saluting in front of tens of thousands of citizens who wailed and stamped their feet in grief for Kim Jong Il.

Son and successor Kim Jong Un was head mourner on the gray day in Pyongyang, walking with one hand on the black hearse that carried his father's coffin, his other hand raised in salute, his head bowed against the wind.

At the end of the 2 1/2-hour procession, rifles fired 21 times as Kim Jong Un stood flanked by the top party and military officials who are expected to be his inner circle of advisers. Kim saluted again as goose-stepping soldiers carrying flags and rifles marched by.

Although analysts say Kim Jong Un is on the path toward cementing his power and all moves in North Korea so far point in that direction, his age and inexperience leave questions about Kim's long-term prospects. Whereas his father was groomed for power for 20 years before taking over, the younger Kim has had only about two years.

He also faces the huge challenges of running a country that struggles to feed its people even as it pursues a nuclear-weapons program that has earned it international sanctions and condemnation.

- Associated Press