Hundreds mourn Kim in China border city

DANDONG - Hundreds of people in the Chinese border city of Dandong flocked to the North Korean consulate on Wednesday to pay their respects to the isolated country's late dictator Kim Jong-Il.

Mourners, many of them in tears, placed wreaths and bouquets of white and yellow flowers below a large portrait of Kim, who died of a heart attack in Pyongyang on Saturday at 69, triggering mass mourning in North Korea.

Many appeared to be from North Korea, and were wearing enamelled lapel pins bearing the likeness of Kim on their winter coats and dark suit jackets.

Dandong, a city of 2.5 million people in northeast China, is the main portal for trade - vital to China's impoverished ally - and an AFP correspondent saw at least 10 fully loaded cargo trucks crossing a bridge linking the two countries into North Korea.

North Korea depends on China for oil and food. Trade between the two neighbours surged an annual 87 percent in the first seven months of this year to $3.1 billion.

At the consulate, visitors paid their respects in silence before being moved on by guards. They declined to speak to AFP about Kim's death, many shying away from having their photographs taken.

Guards allowed them to linger long enough to leave flowers, bow deeply from the waist to Kim's portrait and pause at a television playing a documentary about the former dictator.

Local vendors outside set up temporary flower stalls on street corners, selling chrysanthemum blooms that China's official Xinhua news agency said were brought in from neighbouring areas to meet strong demand.

Nearby peddlers sold souvenir 5,000 North Korean won notes for 20 yuan ($3.15), framed in plastic sheets protecting the pictured faces of Kim and his late father, North Korea's founding president Kim Il-Sung.

Dandong's scores of Korean restaurants were closed on Wednesday. On the North Korean side of the border, across the Yalu river, flags could be seen flying at half-mast.

A consular official told AFP that visas for individual Chinese to visit North Korea would not be granted until after the mourning period ends on December 29.