Final preparations are being made for the funeral of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, with hundreds of thousands of mourners expected to be mobilised to attend the event.

New pictures of North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-un paying respects to his late father were broadcast on state TV on Wednesday. It also showed footage of sobbing mourners on the day of the funeral.

North Korea has said it won't allow foreign delegations to attend the ceremony, but it might make an exception for China, its biggest supporter. Beijing is expected to send its vice premier, Zhang Dejiang, for the event.

The condolence flowers have been airlifted from Shanghai to the northeast border city of Dandong, where stocks have already run out, according to the Korea JoongAng Daily in Seoul.

Meanwhile, nearly all North Koreans working or living overseas were said to have rushed home for Kim's funeral service.

But analysts expect largely a re-run of the 1994 obsequies for Kim's father and founding president Kim Il-sung - a ceremony designed to pay homage to the late leader and build loyalty to his successor.

"The outpouring of grief in 1994 was prevalent throughout Pyongyang, with almost all citizens out to bid farewell to their leader," Yang Moo-jin of Seoul's University of North Korean Studies told the AFP news agency.

"The grief for Kim Il-sung was genuine, with many people expressing real sorrow. The mood this time appears to be slightly different.

"The regime used the 1994 funeral to strengthen public allegiance and loyalty to new leader Kim Jong-il. His own funeral this week will be staged in a similar way."

'Great successor'

The communist state has proclaimed Kim's youngest son, Kim Jong-un, the "great successor" after his father died on December 17 aged 69.

But while Kim Jong-il had 20 years to prepare for his takeover, Kim Jong-un has had barely three.

Analysts are watching developments closely for clues to who will gain power and who may have fallen out of favour in the next era of leadership.

Mourning will officially end on Thursday with a nationwide memorial service including a three-minute silence at noon.

"Mourning shots will be fired in Pyongyang and all provincial units across the country, and three minutes of silence will be observed by people across the country," the North's official news agency said.

On Monday, Kim Jong-un met the heads of two South Korean delegations visiting Pyongyang to pay respects to his father.

Lee Hee-ho, widow of late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, and Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jung-eun paid respects to the late leader at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace and expressed condolences to Jong-un.

"I hope that our visit to the North will help improve South-North relations," Lee said before she crossed the border.

Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il held the first-ever inter-Korea summit in 2000 and Hyundai pioneered cross-border business projects.

The delegates returned home on Tuesday.

Source: Agencies