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Monday, December 19, 2011

A nation in tears: North Koreans mourn the death of Kim Jong Il... as West fears show of strength from nuclear state's new leader

-Kim Jong Il died on a train on Saturday morning from a heart attack
-Came into power in 1994, succeeding his father, Kim Il Sung
-Third son, Kim Jong Un, unveiled as successor in September 2010
-His uncle Jang Song Thaek expected to rule behind the scenes as he trains on the job
-South Korean and Japanese militaries on 'high alert'
-North Korea today test-fires short-range missile on eastern coast
-Fears of behind-the-scenes power struggle which could destabilise region
-Funeral planned for December 28 in capital of Pyongyang

By Thomas Durante, Jennifer Madison and Lee Moran

Scroll down for video...

Dead: Kim Jong Il (left) died on Saturday and will now be replaced by his third son Kim Jong Un (right)

North Koreans today took to the streets in what seemed to be a highly orchestrated mass display of mourning, following the death of the country's dictator Kim Jong Il.

The 69-year-old died of a heart attack while on a train on Saturday - and despite starving millions of his citizens for many years of his rule, a wild outpouring of grief saw people collapsing and bursting into tears.

His death has prompted South Korea and Japan to put their militaries on 'high alert' - with the U.S. saying it could postpone decisions on re-engaging North Korea in nuclear talks and providing it with food aid.

And in a development likely to worry western observers, the pariah state today test-fired a short-range missile on its eastern coast.

Observers also fear a behind-the-scenes power struggle, or nuclear instability, between the country's military and politicians - despite the announcement his third son Kim Jong Un, 28, is to be his successor. He is seen by many as too inexperienced, and to have spent too little time in the country, to take on the top role.

Mourning: Pyongyang residents weep as they are told that their leader Kim Jong Il has died

Grief: Men and women have been reduced to tears with the news, which was announced by a weeping broadcaster on state TV (centre)

Rod Lyon, a Korea expert at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra, said: 'The reason people are watching closely is not because we expect the North to strike out, it's because events within North Korea could have unsettling ramifications.

'If there's a contested succession, it means there's a struggle over things like who controls North Korea's plutonium, not just who controls North Korea's army.' The other key regional player is China, the closest North Korea has to a major ally and which has a sometimes testy relationship with the United States.

Cai Jian, a Korea expert at Shanghai's Fudan University, said: 'China's biggest worry will be over North Korea's stability, and China's aim will be to ensure the country remains stable.

'I think security will be stepped up in North Korea, and China is also likely to tighten security along the border. If (Kim's) death leads to chaos, we could see a flow of refugees across the (Chinese) border.' Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who said his country was bracing itself for the unexpected, and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak agreed over the phone to cooperate closely.

Tears: Korean television has been playing images of people grieving ever since the announcement that Kim Jong Il had died

In mourning: A woman holding flowers walks through a fence to enter the North Korea embassy to mourn the death of Kim Jong-il in Beijing, China

Expressive: North Koreans have been breaking down in tears following the news that their leader has died

The news has come as a surprise for many North Korean because Kim, who reportedly suffered a stroke in 2008, had appeared relatively vigorous in photos from recent visits to China and Russia. His funeral is planned for December 28 in Pyongyang, with a mourning period to last until December 29.

U.S. President Barack Obama's administration said it had been expected to decide on food aid and the re-engagement of North Korea in nuclear issues this week. But officials, worried about changes in the military postures of both North and South Korea, said Kim's death would delay the process.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said his death could be a 'turning point' for the country and urged his successors to recognise that engagement with the international community offered the best hope of improving the lives of their people.

He said: 'The people of North Korea are in official mourning after the death of Kim Jong Il. We understand this is a difficult time for them. This could be a turning point for North Korea.

'We hope their new leadership will recognise that engagement with the international community offers the best prospect of improving the lives of ordinary North Korean people.

'We encourage North Korea to work for peace and security in the region and take the steps necessary to allow the resumption of the Six Party Talks on de-nuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.'

China said it was 'distressed' to learn of his death but remained confident North Korea would remain united and that the two neighbours would keep up their cooperation.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said: 'We were distressed to learn of the unfortunate passing of the senior-most North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, and we express our grief about this and extend our condolences to the people of North Korea.'

Praise: North Koreans cry and scream in a display of mourning at the foot of a giant statue of Kim Jong Il's father Kim Il Sung, in the capital Pyongyang

Despair: Tears have flowed in North Korea following the death of the country's leader

Respect: Students of Pyongyang Secondary School No 1 gather as they mourn over the death of Kim Jong Il

Devastated: Employees of Pyongyang 326 Electric Wire Factory mourn Kim Jong Il's death

Despair: North Koreans have been pictured doubling over on the ground with grief following the announcement

Why? Men and women have fallen on their knees to show their grief at the loss of the their leader

Ma praised Kim as a 'great leader' who made 'important contributions' to relations with China and added: 'We are confident that the North Korean people will be able to turn their anguish into strength and unify as one.

'China and North Korea will strive together to continue making positive contributions to consolidating and developing the traditional friendship between our two parties, governments and peoples, and to preserving the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and the region.'

North Korea is calling Kim Jong Il's son a 'great successor' to the country's guiding principle of self reliance, as the country rallies around heir-apparent Kim Jong Un as the next leader.

The official Korean Central News Agency said the country 'must faithfully revere respectable comrade Kim Jong Un', and urged its 24 million citizens to rally behind him as it mourns.

Coverage: A man watches the reporting of the death of Kim Jong Il through the windows of an electronics store in Tokyo, Japan

Breaking news: A South Korean woman watches TV news reporting the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il at Seoul rail station (left) as a Vietnamese man places a funeral wreath in front of Pyongyang Restaurant in Hanoi (right)

The U.S. dollar jumped, in response to his death, as uncertainty in North Korea increased the country's safe-haven appeal. Asian stock markets moved lower amid the news, which raises the possibility of increased instability on the divided Korean peninsula.

South Korea's Kospi index was down 3.9 per cent at 1,767.89 and Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 0.8 per cent to 8,331.00. Hong Kong's Hang Seng slipped 2 per cent to 17,929.66 and the Shanghai Composite Index dropped 2 per cent to 2,178.75.

European markets also opened slightly down, with the FTSE down 0.2 per cent to 5,378.55; the CAC 40 down 0.13 per cent down to 2,969; and the DAX slightly up 0.07 per cent at 5,706.

The news of Kim's death came as North Korea prepared for a hereditary succession. Kim Jong Il inherited power after his father, revered North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, died in 1994.

In September 2010, Kim Jong Il introduced his third son Kim Song Un as his successor, placing him in high-ranking posts. Kim Jong Il had been groomed to lead the nation founded by his guerilla fighter-turned-politician father and built according to the principle of 'juche,' or self-reliance.

Reaction: Elderly South Koreans chant anti-North slogans in Seoul (left) as police officers stand guard at the General Association of Korean residents in Tokyo, Japan

Surprise: South Korean soldiers watch a news broadcast reporting the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il at the Seoul train station

U.S. relations: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton made a surprise visit to meet Kim Jong Il in 2009 to secure the release of two American journalists (left). Kim also met Russia's then President Vladimir Putin in 2002 (right)

Few firm facts are available when it comes to North Korea, one of the most isolated countries in the world, and little is clear about the origins of the man known as the 'Dear Leader.'

North Korean legend has it he was born on Mount Paekdu, one of Korea's most cherished sites, in 1942, a birth heralded in the heavens by a pair of rainbows and a brilliant new star. Soviet records, however, indicate he was born in Siberia, in 1941.
Kim Il Sung, who for years fought for independence from Korea's colonial ruler, Japan, from a base in Russia, emerged as a communist leader after returning to Korea in 1945 after Japan was defeated in World War II.

With the peninsula divided between the Soviet-administered north and the U.S.-administered south, Kim rose to power as North Korea's first leader in 1948 while Syngman Rhee became South Korea's first president.

The North invaded the South in 1950, sparking a war that would last three years, kill millions of civilians and leave the peninsula divided by a Demilitarized Zone that today remains one of the world's most heavily fortified.

In the North, Kim Il Sung meshed Stalinist ideology with a cult of personality that encompassed him and his son. Their portraits hang in every building in North Korea and on the lapels of every dutiful North Korean.

Kim Jong Il, a graduate of Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung University, was 33 when his father anointed him his eventual successor. Even before he took over as leader, there were signs the younger Kim would maintain - and perhaps exceed - his father's hard-line stance.

South Korea has accused Kim of masterminding a 1983 bombing that killed 17 South Korean officials visiting Burma, now known as Myanmar.

In 1987, the bombing of a Korean Air Flight killed all 115 people on board; a North Korean agent who confessed to planting the device said Kim ordered the downing of the plane himself.

Kim Jong Il took over after his father died in 1994, eventually taking the posts of chairman of the National Defence Commission, commander of the Korean People's Army and head of the ruling Worker's Party while his father remained as North Korea's 'eternal president.'

He faithfully carried out his father's policy of 'military first,' devoting much of the country's scarce resources to its troops - even as his people suffered from a prolonged famine - and built the world's fifth-largest military.

Kim also sought to build up the country's nuclear arms arsenal, which culminated in North Korea's first nuclear test explosion, an underground blast conducted in October 2006. Another test came in 2009.

Alarmed, regional leaders negotiated a disarmament-for-aid pact that the North signed in 2007 and began implementing later that year. However, the process continues to be stalled, even as diplomats work to restart negotiations.

North Korea, long hampered by sanctions and unable to feed its own people, is desperate for aid. Flooding in the 1990s that destroyed the largely mountainous country's arable land left millions hungry. Following the famine, the number of North Koreans fleeing the country through China rose dramatically, with many telling tales of hunger, political persecution and rights abuses that officials in Pyongyang emphatically denied. Kim often blamed the U.S. for his country's troubles and his regime routinely derides Washington-allied South Korea as a 'puppet' of the Western superpower.

Nuke ambitions: Kim sought to build up the country's nuclear arms arsenal, which culminated in North Korea's first nuclear test explosion, an underground blast conducted in October 2006.

Leader: North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (right) and South Korea's President Roh Moo-hyun pose in this 2007 photo during a joint statement in Pyongyang

Dictator: Kim Jong Il rose began his reign of the Communist regime after the death of his father Kim Il Sung in 1994. There were rumours about his health, but he appeared relatively vigorous in photos and video from recent trips to China and Russia and in numerous trips around the country

U.S. President George W Bush, taking office in 2002, denounced North Korea as a member of an 'axis of evil' that also included Iran and Iraq. He later described Kim as a 'tyrant' who starved his people so he could build nuclear weapons.

He said in 2005: 'Look, Kim Jong Il is a dangerous person. He's a man who starves his people. He's got huge concentration camps. And... there is concern about his capacity to deliver a nuclear weapon.'

Kim was an enigmatic leader. But defectors from North Korea describe him as an eloquent and tireless orator, primarily to the military units that form the base of his support.

The world's best glimpse of the man was in 2000, when the liberal South Korean government's conciliatory 'sunshine' policy toward the North culminated in the first-ever summit between the two Koreas and followed with unprecedented inter-Korean cooperation.

A second summit was held in 2007 with South Korea's Roh Moo-hyun.But the thaw in relations drew to a halt in early 2008 when conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office in Seoul pledging to come down hard on communist North Korea.

Disputing accounts that Kim was 'peculiar,' former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright characterized Kim as intelligent and well-informed, saying the two had wide-ranging discussions during her visits to Pyongyang when Bill Clinton was U.S. president.

'I found him very much on top of his brief,' she said. Kim cut a distinctive, if oft ridiculed, figure. Short and pudgy at 5-foot-3, he wore platform shoes and sported a permed bouffant.

Kim was said to have cultivated wide interests, including professional basketball, cars and foreign films. He reportedly produced several North Korean films as well, mostly historical epics with an ideological tinge.

A South Korean film director claimed Kim even kidnapped him and his movie star wife in the late 1970s, spiriting them back to North Korea to make movies for him for a decade before they managed to escape from their North Korean agents during a trip to Austria.

Kim rarely travelled abroad and then only by train because of an alleged fear of flying, once heading all the way by luxury rail car to Moscow, indulging in his taste for fine food along the way. One account of Kim's lavish lifestyle came from Konstantin Pulikovsky, a former Russian presidential envoy who wrote the book 'The Orient Express' about Kim's train trip through Russia in July and August 2001.

Pulikovsky, who accompanied the North Korean leader, said Kim's 16-car private train was stocked with crates of French wine. Live lobsters were delivered in advance to stations.

Family life: Kim Jong Il in two undated pictures with Kim Jong Suk and Kim Il Sung

A Japanese cook later claimed he was Kim's personal sushi chef for a decade, writing that Kim had a wine cellar stocked with 10,000 bottles, and that, in addition to sushi, Kim ate shark's fin soup - a rare delicacy - weekly.

'His banquets often started at midnight and lasted until morning. The longest lasted for four days,' the chef, who goes by the pseudonym Kenji Fujimoto, was quoted as saying. Kim is believed to have curbed his indulgent ways in recent years and looked slimmer in more recent video footage aired by North Korea's state-run broadcaster.

Kim's marital status wasn't clear but he is believed to have married once and had at least three other companions. He had at least three sons with two women, as well as a daughter by a third.

His eldest son, Kim Jong Nam, 38, is believed to have fallen out of favor with his father after he was caught trying to enter Japan on a fake passport in 2001 saying he wanted to visit Disney's Tokyo resort. His two other sons by another woman, Kim Jong Chul and Kim Jong Un, are in their 20s. Their mother reportedly died several years ago.


April 15, 1912: North Korean founder Kim Il Sung born in Pyongyang.
Feb. 16, 1942: Kim Jong Il born in guerrilla fighters' camp on Mount Paektu, the highest peak on the Korean peninsula, according to official North Korean history. Others say he was born in Siberian village, and was born in 1941.
Sept. 9, 1948: Kim Il Sung establishes Democratic People's Republic of Korea in northern half of the Korean peninsula.
June 25, 1950: North Korea invades South Korea.
July 27, 1953: Korean War ends in a truce, not a peace treaty.
September 1973: Assumes Workers Party's No. 2 post - secretary for party's organisation, guidance and propaganda affairs.
February 1974: Kim Jong Il elected to Political Bureau of the Workers Party's Central Committee and formally becomes North Korea's future leader.
Oct. 10, 1980: His status as country's future leader is made public at Workers' Party congress, where he takes up other top positions.
Jan. 8, 1983: Kim Jong Il's third and youngest son Jong Un believed to have been born.
Dec. 24, 1991: Kim Jong Il named Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army.
April 1993: Named Chairman of the National Defence Commission.
July 8, 1994: Kim Il Sung dies of heart attack and Kim Jong Il inherits power.
Oct. 8, 1997: Kim Jong-Il named General Secretary of the Workers' Party.
August 2008: Kim Jong Il reportedly suffers a stroke.
July 21, 2010: The U.S. imposes new sanctions on North Korea in a bid to stem Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.
Sept. 28, 2010: Kim Jong Un promoted to four-star general and given leadership roles in the ruling Workers' Party – moves seen as confirmation he is slated to become the country's next leader. The announcement is North Korean state media's first mention of Kim Jong Un.
Oct. 10, 2010: Kim Jong Un makes public debut at largest military parade the communist state has ever staged. The celebration in Pyongyang marks the 65th anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party but also serves as a coming-out party for the younger Kim.
Oct. 11, 2010: Kim Jong-nam, the casino-loving eldest son of Kim Jong Il, says he opposes a hereditary transfer of power to his youngest half-brother. Analysts say Kim Jong Nam spends so much time outside his native land his opinion carries little weight. He spoke to Japan's TV Asahi in an interview from Beijing.
Jan. 28, 2011: Kim Jong-nam says his father opposed continuing the family dynasty into a third generation but named his youngest son as heir to keep the country stable, according to TV Asahi.
Feb. 16, 2011: Kim Jong Il celebrates his 69th birthday.
April 15, 2011: North Koreans honour the country's founder, Kim Il Sung, on the 99th anniversary of his birth. It is the nation's most important holiday and known as "The Day of the Sun."
Dec. 18, 2011: Kim Jong Il's death at age of 69 is announced by state television from Pyongyang.



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