North Korea has staged a massive memorial service for Kim Jong-il, ending almost two weeks of official mourning, and has officially declared his son, Kim Jong-un, as the country's new "supreme leader".

Tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians took part in the two-day national memorial service for the late leader in the capital Pyongyang, aired on state television.

A sombre Jong-un presided over the ceremony on Thursday from a balcony overlooking proceedings, accompanied by other senior members of the government.

The official news agency described him as "supreme leader of the party, state and army".

The country observed three minutes of silence nationwide at noon local time (03:00 GMT), punctuated by the horns of ships and railway engine whistles.

The country's current de facto head of state, Kim Yong-nam, made an address to the vast crowd filling a Pyongyang square.

Yong-nam praised the late Kim for contributing to "global peace and stability of the 21st century".

The service will end 13 days of mourning following Kim Jong-il's death on December 17.

Funeral procession

The North Korean military staged a huge funeral procession in Pyongyang on Wednesday for its "Dear Leader", readying a transition to his son, Kim Jong-un.

State television showed a funeral cortege led by a limousine carrying a huge picture of the 69-year old, passing ranks of uniformed soldiers whose bare heads were bowed in homage.

Thousands of people who had gathered on the snow-bound streets to observe the procession could be heard wailing as the hearse passed.

"Seeing this white snow fall has made me think of the general's [Kim's] efforts and this brings tears to my eyes," Seo
Ju-rim, a weeping female soldier, told North Korean television.

Al Jazeera's Harry Fawcett, reporting from the South Korean capital, Seoul, said the funeral procession was very similar to the one held in 1994 for Kim Jong-il's father.

The image of Kim Jong-un is already being projected very powerfully, with footage released in the media showing him crying over his father's death, he said.

"The elite in the country are focused on keeping stability, and preventing the breakdown of the regime," our correspondent said. "They are rallying around Kim Jong-un."

"According to some reports, he is a bit of a hardliner himself," he said. "He is a very young man suddenly in charge of a nuclear weaponised state, but he is also surrounded by old-timers."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies