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North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Il has Died

Ben Schenk

North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Il has Died

CREATED Dec. 18, 2011

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong-il died of a heart attack while on a train trip, state media reported on Monday, sparking immediate concern over who is in control of the reclusive state and its nuclear program.

A tearful television announcer dressed in black said the 69-year old had died on Saturday of physical and mental over-work on his way to give "field guidance" - a reference to advice dispensed by the "Dear Leader" on his trips to factories, farms and military bases.

Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il's youngest son, was named by North Korea's official news agency KCNA as the "great successor" to his father, which lauded him as "the outstanding leader of our party, army and people."

Little is known of Jong-un who is believed to be in his late 20s and was appointed to senior political and military posts in 2010.

KCNA news agency said the elder Kim died at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday (2330 GMT on Friday) after "an advanced acute myocardial infarction, complicated with a serious heart shock." Kim had suffered a stroke in 2008, but had appeared to have recovered from that ailment.

South Korea, still technically at war with the North, placed its troops and all government workers on emergency alert but Seoul's Defense Ministry said there were no signs of any unusual North Korean troop movements and President Lee Myung-bak called for people to carry on with their normal lives.

Lee held talks with President Barack Obama over the telephone as the United States is the main guarantor of South Korea's security. Seoul was also due to hold talks with government officials in Tokyo later in the day.

"Up until tonight, if anybody had asked you what would be the most likely scenario under which the North Korean regime could collapse, the answer would be the sudden death of Kim Jong-il," said Victor Cha, a Korea expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies think-tank in Washington.

"And so I think right now we're in that scenario and we don't know how it's going to turn out."

The White House said President Barack Obama had been notified of the reports of Kim's death and it was closely monitoring and in touch with South Korea and Japan.

The United States was committed to stability on the Korean peninsula as well as to its allies, the White House press secretary said.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told ministers at a special security meeting to prepare for the unexpected, including on border affairs, Japan's top government spokesman said.

China, North Korea's only major ally, has yet to comment.

Market players and regional powers will be on edge over what might happen next in the isolated state, whose collapsing economy and bid to become a nuclear weapons power pose major threats to northeast Asia.

Asian stocks and U.S. index futures fell, with South Korean shares tumbling as much as 5 percent, and the dollar gained after the announcement. The Korean won fell 1.8 percent.

Kim Jong-un was at the head of a long list of officials making up the funeral committee, indicating he would lead it, and a key sign that he had taken, or been given, charge.

But there will be enormous questions over how much credibility the younger Kim has, since he is only in his late 20s and has had little time to prepare for the role.

"Kim Jong-un is not yet the official heir, but the regime will move in the direction of Kim Jong-un taking center stage," said Chung Young-Tae at the Korea Institute of National Unification. "There is a big possibility that a power struggle may happen.

"It's likely the military will support Kim Jong-un," he added. "Right now there will be control wielded over the people to keep them from descending into chaos in this tumultuous time."

 

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