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U.N. assembly holds "minute" of silence for Kim Jong-il

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. General Assembly granted a request from North Korea and held a few moments of silence on Thursday for Kim Jong-il, the country’s former leader who died on Saturday, though Western delegations boycotted it.

North Koreans make a call of condolence for deceased leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang December 21, 2011 in this picture released by the North's official KCNA news agency early December 22, 2011. REUTERS/KCNA

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, president of the 193-nation assembly, called for a “minute of silence” before the start of a routine meeting at 3:00 p.m. EST in the half-empty U.N. General Assembly hall.

“It is my sad duty to pay tribute to the memory of the late Kim Jong-il, Secretary-General of the Workers Party of Korea, Chairman of the National Defense Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army, who passed away on Saturday, December 17,” he said.

The minute of silence lasted for 25 seconds before Nasser proceeded with the scheduled meeting. The United States, European Union member states and Japan were among the countries that boycotted the tribute to Kim Jong-il.

North Korea’s U.N. mission made a similar request to the Security Council, but Western diplomats said it was rejected.

“We didn’t think it would be appropriate,” a diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Several Western diplomats said Pyongyang’s request for Kim to be honored was highly unusual. They voiced surprise that Nassir had granted it and added that their delegations would most likely boycott the moment of silence in the assembly.

Speaking at a news conference, Nasser cited “protocol” as the reason for agreeing to the request from North Korea, a full U.N. member. One diplomat said the reason for granting the request was probably because Kim was an acting head of state.

Pyongyang is under Security Council sanctions due to Kim Jong-il’s nuclear weapons program, which Western officials say ate up huge sums of money that could have been used to help feed North Korea’s starving population.

An official at the Czech Republic’s U.N. mission said the Czechs did not request a similar moment of silence for Vaclav Havel, the playwright-turned-dissident who died on Sunday.

The former Czech president was the leader of Czechoslovakia’s 1989 “Velvet Revolution,” in which he oversaw the peaceful transition from communism to democracy.

Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Eric Walsh