N.Korea at Crossroads

      December 20, 2011 09:25

      North Korean leader Kim Jong-il died at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, official North Korean media reported Monday, 15 days short of his father's centenary year, when he had vowed to make the North a "powerful and prosperous nation."

      North Korean Central TV had announced from 10 a.m. that there would be a special broadcast at noon. In a press release titled "A notice to all party members, officers and soldiers of the People's Army, and the people," the media said Kim died from acute myocardial infarction complicated by severe cardiogenic shock on a moving train on Saturday. His medical staff did everything they could, but he died at 8:30 a.m., the [North] Korean Central News Agency said. "An autopsy on Dec. 18 fully confirmed the diagnosis of his diseases," it added.

      A South Korean government official said it seems Kim had been traveling to one of his regional villas.

      Kim Jong-il was established as heir to regime founder Kim Il-sung in 1974 and did not officially take power until his father's death in 1994. But in fact he ruled for 37 years over one of the world's poorest countries, taking it into a period of global isolation, mass starvation and egregious human rights abuses.

      He oversaw various kinds of violent provocations, such as the Rangoon bombing of South Korean Cabinet members in 1983, the downing of Korean Air flight 858 in 1987, as well as last year's sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. All the while he tried to turn the Korean Peninsula into a nuclear nightmare, testing two nuclear bombs and developing missiles that would carry them.

      He is likely to be succeeded by his youngest son Jong-un. The regime put Kim Jong-un's name at the top of a 232-member funeral committee and KCNA on Monday called him the "great leader" and the "great successor."

      But Kim Jong-il finally took power at the age of 53 after consolidating his power base for 20 years, whereas 29-year-old Jong-un was anointed as the heir only in October last year. Experts say his power base is weak, and although groomed for the leadership by being given key posts like vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, Kim Jong-un is in a vulnerable position due to his father's sudden death.

      It seems more likely that a cabal of old men led by Jang Song-taek, Kim Jong-un's uncle and another vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, will wield the real power using Kim Jong-un as a front.

      China's Communist Party Central Committee, State Council, and National People's Congress sent a telegram of condolence on Monday, saying Beijing "firmly believes that the North Korean people will make efforts for the development of their nation and peace on the Korean Peninsula under the leadership of Kim Jong-un," it said.

      The South Korean government made no official comment.

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