October 24, 2011 10:30
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il lost another dictator friend when Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was killed last Thursday. Gadhafi's ouster was the third of its kind this year after former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak were toppled in January and February.
"Kim Jong-il and Gadhafi are very much alike in many respects," a South Korean government official said. Gadhafi's brutal killing "must have had a lot of psychological impact on Kim."
Born in the same year, the two dictators maintained their stranglehold for about 40 years. Kim has held onto power for 37 years since he was designated his father's successor, compared to Gadhafi's 42 years since he toppled the Libyan monarchy in a military coup.
"They're alike also in that they established idiosyncratic political systems that are unparalleled in modern history," said Han Ki-beom, a former deputy chief of the National Intelligence Service.
Kim invented the "songun" (military first) policy, a doctrine he created by mixing regime founder Kim Il-sung's "juche" (self-reliance) ideology with his own reign of terror. Gadhafi propagated what he called direct democracy while calling his regime "Jamahiriya" (a nation of the people).
The children of both dictators are lavish spenders and have a taste for mainstream Western pop. Intelligence services say Kim's third son and heir Jong-un has spent US$2 million just on building his own office. Kim's second son Jong-chol went on a spending spree in Singapore in February, staying at a deluxe hotel and attending an Eric Clapton concert.
Gadhafi's second son Saif al-Islam owned a luxurious house worth $20 million in north London and reportedly spent millions of dollars inviting pop stars Beyoncé Knowles and Mariah Carey to his private parties.
◆ News Blackout
The North tends to keep the death of other dictators very quiet. There was no mention of Gadhafi’s killing, and in December 2006 the official Minju Choson newspaper carried just a brief report 18 days after Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein was executed.
There is speculation that Kim Jong-il is likely to keep a low profile. When the Iraq War broke out in 2003, he disappeared from public view for about 50 days, and after Mubarak was ousted in February he vanished for 10 days.
According to a South Korean government source, Kim deployed tanks around his residence and imported riot equipment from China right after Mubarak's ouster. "The regime will further tighten controls because of Gadhafi's death," another South Korean government official said.
That is likely to set back attempts to solve the perennial North Korean nuclear issue, experts say, because with the death of Gadhafi, who yielded to Western pressure to give up his nuclear weapons program, Kim now has an even stronger motivation to hold on to his.
"Kim Jong-il is probably going to think he'll have to hold onto his nuclear arms to avoid Gadhafi's fate," said Ryu Dong-ryeol of the Police Science Institute.
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