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Kim Jong Il's 70th birthday marked with flowers and solemn ceremonies in North Korea

North Korea marked what would have been Kim Jong Il's 70th birthday on Thursday with emotional festivities and dedicated programming on state TV.

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South Korean activists prepare to release balloons carrying some 140,000 leaflets lambasting the North's dynastic transition to Kim Jong-Il's youngest son and successor Jong-Un at Imjingak peace park near the inter Korea border, in Paju on February 16, 2012. (JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)

North Korea marked what would have been Kim Jong Il's 70th birthday on Thursday with emotional festivities and dedicated programming on state TV.

Large groups of soldiers and civilians took turns bowing in unison and leaving red "kimjongilia" begonias — flowers named for the late leader who died Dec. 17 — at the base of his portrait hanging in Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Square, according to VOA.

Korean Central Television (KCTV), meantime, aired images from Kim Jong Il's life set to lyrics in praise of him sung by chorus groups, CNN reported.

Kim Jong Il's birthday was recently dubbed "the Day of the Shining Star," it added.

Kim Jong Un, Kim's youngest son and North Korea's new leader, dressed in a dark Mao suit and led senior officials and military leaders into a hall in Kumsusan Memorial Palace in the capital so that they could bow deeply before Kim's portrait, the Washington Post wrote.

Among those paying respects, the paper reported, were North Korea's nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam; Premier Choe Yong Rim; Kim Jong Il's key foreign policy adviser Kang Sok Ju; and Kim Ok, a woman believed to have been Kim Jong Il’s "companion."

Kim Yong Nam reportedly called on North Koreans to protect Kim's successor with their lives.

Kim Jong Il's birthday has also reportedly inspired an ice sculpture festival and the delivery of gifts to children across the country, in some cases by helicopter, CNN reported.

South Korean activists, meanwhile, marked the occasion by sending balloons filled with leaflets decrying North Korea's dictatorial leadership across the border.

"To commemorate Kim Jong Il's 70th birthday, his successor, Kim Jong Un, is forcing North Koreans to swear fidelity under the name of his father. We sent leaflets to North Korea to let people know the truth of the succession which is hypocritical and fake."

Kim Jong Il's birthday is the first of two big occasions planned for early 2012 to eulogize former dictators of the nuclear-armed nation.

The 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea and father of Kim Jong Il, takes place on April 15.

Kim Il Sung's birthday is known as "the Day of the Sun" and is the biggest national holiday. 

The UK's Telegraph has a video report of the celebrations:

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/120216/kim-jong-il-birthday-north-korea-70-pyongyang