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Sobbing in streets as dictator Kim Jong Il's state funeral begins

There was an elaborate and dramatic farewell Wednesday for Kim Jong-Il, the leader of one of the most isolated places on earth: North Korea. He died 10 days ago, and as his nation paid its final respects, the eyes of the world were on his young, untested successor. NBC's Adrienne Mong reports.

Updated at 8:08 a.m. ET 

PYONGYANG, North Korea -- Wailing and clutching at their hearts, tens of thousands of North Koreans lined the snowy streets of Pyongyang on Wednesday as the hearse carrying late leader Kim Jong Il's wound its way through the capital for a final farewell.

Son and successor Kim Jong Un led the procession, which is part of a two-day state funeral. Top military and party officials, including uncle Jang Song Thaek, were also part of the lead group.

Sobs and wails filled the air along the memorial route, which state media said was about 25 miles long.

At the end of the procession, Kim Jong Un walked along with the limousine with his hand cocked in a salute. He stood head-bowed with top officials as rifles fired 21 times, then saluted again as goose-stepping soldiers carrying flags and rifles marched by.

The funeral procession, which began and ended at Kumsusan Memorial Palace, passed by huge crowds of mourners, most of them standing in the snow with their heads bare. Many screamed, stamped their feet, flailed their arms and wept as soldiers struggled to keep them from spilling onto the road.

The mourners included many members of the country's 1.2 million-strong armed forces.

Kim's two other sons, Kim Jong Nam and Kim Jong Chol, were not spotted.

Kim Jong Il, who led the nation with an iron fist following his father Kim Il Sung's death in 1994, died of a heart attack Dec. 17 at age 69, according to state media.

Heavy snow was falling in Pyongyang, which state media characterized in the early days of mourning as proof that the skies were "grieving" for Kim as well. 

"How can the sky not cry?" a weeping soldier standing in the snow said to state TV. "The people ... are all crying tears of blood."

Wednesday's state funeral for North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il capped more than a week of public mourning. NBC's Adrienne Mong reports.

A national memorial service is due to take place at noon Thursday, state media said.

Updated at 7:03 a.m. ET: Speaking from Seoul, NBC News' Adrienne Mong tells TODAY that as video footage of procession was only available via state media, it is not possible to know how much of the grieving was "staged."

Updated at 6:28 a.m. ET: An essay in Workers' Party mouthpiece Rodong Sinmun, which was carried in English by the Korean Central News Agency, says Kim Jong Un will take "warm care of the people left by Kim Jong Il."

Updated at 4:22 a.m. ET: Angus Walker, Beijing correspondent for Britain's ITV, examines why North Koreans haven't chosen this moment to overthrow the Kim dynasty. "The regime knows its power relies on the power of propaganda," he writes. "In North Korea he was the only hero, the only film and TV star, the only person pictured in the papers. North Koreans were told he was the most famous person on earth, in a world without Hollywood or the Internet many believe it, he was a religion, a cult, a god and a king combined."

AFP - Getty Images

This screen grab taken from North Korean TV shows a portrait of Kim Jong Il on a car arriving at Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang on Wednesday.

Updated at 4:15 a.m. ET: Britain's former ambassador to North Korea tells the BBC the future of the country's regime is "unsustainable".

Updated at 4:02 a.m. ET: Sky News' foreign affairs editor Tim Marshall questions how much of the emotion is real. "If the camera is on you ... you know what is expected," he says.

Updated at 3:02 a.m. ET: North Korea state TV broadcast of funeral procession ends.

Updated at 2:59 a.m. ET: Gunfire during ceremony "still doesn't mask the sound of wailing," NBC News' Adrienne Mong (@adriennemong) reports.

Updated at 2:50 a.m. ET: BNO News' Michael van Poppel (@mpoppel) cites North Korea state media as saying mourners shouting: "Fatherly general, don't go, please! Never, never! Come back please!"

Updated at 2:26 a.m. ET: Chico Harlan (@chicoharlan), the Washington Post's East Asia correspondent, tweets: "N. Korea is so close to comedy but obviously a tragedy. Seeing this guy, no matter the stagecraft, made me sad." Click here to see the photo.

Updated at 2:16 a.m. ET: BBC News' Lucy Williamson points out that many "senior military and party officials ... may well now be jostling for influence in the new regime.

"Some say North Korea's reluctance to open up the funeral ceremony to foreign delegations may signal that those hierarchies have not yet been fully agreed," she adds.

Updated at 2:12 a.m. ET:  "After motorcade passed, some North Koreans seem to be leaving quickly," BNO News' Michael van Poppel (@mpoppel) tweets.

Updated at 1:38 a.m. ET: "I think a lot of that is fake crying," Los Angeles Times' Beijing bureau chief Barbara Demick tells Britain's Sky News. "There is a lot of pressure to out do your neighbor in showing your grief." Demick is also author of "Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea."

Updated at 1:22 a.m. ET: Citing U.N. data, Reuters notes that the average North Korean now dies three-and-a-half years earlier than they did when "Eternal President" Kim Il Sung died in 1994.

North Korea is one of the most closed and poorest societies on earth, ranking 194 out of 227 countries in terms of per capita wealth, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Updated at 1:15 a.m. ET: NBC News' Adrienne Mong (@adriennemong) tweets that a "soundtrack of wailing" and "emotive announcer" feature as part of North Korean state TV's coverage. 

Updated at 1:08 a.m ET: North Korea carried out a meticulously choreographed funeral for late leader Kim Jong Il on Wednesday and affirmed that the country was now in the "warm care" of his young son, extending the Kim family's hold on power to a third generation.

Footage broadcast on North Korea's state television showed Kim's youngest son and successor Kim Jong Un walking next to his father's hearse.

Foreign dignitaries in the city had been asked to gather at a sports stadium shortly before noon to be taken to see the hearse pass at the start of the funeral procession through Pyongyang, according to a diplomat who asked that her name not be used due to the sensitivity of the details.

The Associated Press, Reuters, msnbc.com staff and NBC News contributed to this report.