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North Korea in 3 days of mourning for 'great comrade' Castro

Associated Press Associated Press 29/11/2016
In this photo distributed by the North Korean government, Choe Ryong Hae, right, a vice chairman of North Korea's Workers' Party, is sent off before leaving Pyongyang, North Korea, for Cuba Monday, Nov. 28, 2016. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service. Reports from Pyongyang said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent a wreath to the Cuban Embassy and that a delegation of senior North Korean officials, led by Choe, left for Havana to attend the late Fidel Castro's memorial services. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP) © The Associated Press In this photo distributed by the North Korean government, Choe Ryong Hae, right, a vice chairman of North Korea's Workers' Party, is sent off before leaving Pyongyang, North Korea, for Cuba Monday, Nov. 28, 2016. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service. Reports from Pyongyang said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent a wreath to the Cuban Embassy and that a delegation of senior North Korean officials, led by Choe, left for Havana to attend the late Fidel Castro's memorial services. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

TOKYO — North Korea is observing a three-day period of mourning for Fidel Castro, who was seen by the North as a comrade-in-arms against the common enemy of the United States.

Flags outside official buildings are being flown at half-staff to honor Castro, who died Friday at age 90.

Reports from Pyongyang said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited the Cuban Embassy to pay his respects. A delegation of senior North Korean officials has left for Havana to attend Castro's memorial services.

"We feel pain of the loss of the great comrade, the great comrade-in-arms," Kim wrote in a condolence book at the Cuban embassy, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported Tuesday.

According to a Japanese agency that monitors North Korean media, Castro is the first foreign political figure to be honored in such a manner since Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died in 2004.

The mourning period ends Wednesday.

Shortly after receiving news of Castro's death, Kim Yong Nam, head of the North's parliament, and Premier Pak Pong Ju sent a message of condolence to Castro's brother Raul, who assumed power after Fidel Castro became too weak to continue as leader in 2008.

In it, they said that although Fidel Castro has died, "the feats he performed for the Cuban revolution and the fraternal relations of friendship between the two countries would remain forever."

But Fidel Castro's passing could well be the end of an era for North Korea-Cuba relations.

Because of their common enmity toward the United States and similar authoritarian power structures, Cuba and North Korea had maintained generally close diplomatic ties throughout the years. The two countries established ties in 1960 and Castro visited the North in 1986 to meet with Kim Il Sung, the country's founder and Kim Jong Un's grandfather.

Such fraternal sentiment toward Havana and Raul Castro, however, appears to have dimmed in Pyongyang amid a rapprochement between Cuba and the U.S., who agreed to normalize ties in 2014.

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