Kim Jong Il taps son as successor

June 2, 2009 7:19:38 AM PDT
North Korea's Kim Jong Il has anointed his 26-year-old son - said to be competitive, proficient in English and a heavy drinker - as the next leader of the communist state, news reports said Tuesday. Two major South Korean newspapers said Tuesday that North Korea's military, party and government officials were informed that Kim Jong Un, the youngest of three, is in line to take the world's first communist dynasty into a third generation.

The announcement was made in the days after North Korea's provocative May 25 nuclear test, the Hankook Ilbo newspaper reported, citing unnamed South Korean lawmakers briefed by the spy agency.

The son already is being hailed as "Commander Kim," and North Koreans are learning the lyrics to a new song praising him as the next leader, the Dong-a Ilbo newspaper said. South Korean lawmaker Park Jie-won told a radio show Tuesday that the regime already is "pledging its allegiance to Kim Jong Un." He said he was briefed by South Korea's spy agency.

The National Intelligence Service would not confirm the reports.

The apparent anointment comes at a time of mounting tensions over North Korea's April 5 rocket launch and last week's nuclear test. The North also appears to be preparing to test-fire an array of medium- and long-range missiles, reports said. Global powers are discussing how to rein in Pyongyang for its nuclear defiance.

Analysts say the saber-rattling is part of a campaign to build unity and support for a successor to Kim Jong Il, who reportedly suffered a stroke last August. Kim has three sons but had not publicly named an heir to lead the nation of 24 million.

Kim, once pudgy and renowned for his love of cognac and gourmet meals, made his first state appearance since the reported stroke at the opening session of the new parliament April 12. He was grayer, considerably thinner and limping slightly.

He is believed to want to name a successor by 2012 - the centenary of the birth of his father, North Korea's founder Kim Il Sung - and the regime undertook a massive campaign last year to gear the country up for the 100th anniversary celebrations.

The regime called the April 5 launch of a satellite into space part of the campaign to show off the country's scientific advancements. The U.S., Japan and others called it a cover for a test of long-range missile technology.

Last month, the regime stepped up the pace and launched a "150-day battle" urging North Koreans to work harder to build the country's economy.

"Before 2012, North Korea must convince the army and the public that Jong Un is the best successor," said Atsuhito Isozaki, assistant professor of North Korean politics at Tokyo's private Keio University. "To pave the way for Jong Un's leadership, it is highly likely that North Korea will turn recent nuclear and missile tests into his achievements."

Analyst Cheong Seong-chang of the Sejong Institute, a South Korean security think tank, noted that the "politically driven" 150-day campaign is set to culminate in early October, about the time of the anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party. He said North Korea could hold a national convention then - its first in nearly 30 years - to formally announce Kim's successor.

Cheong said that in the 1970s, Kim Il Sung, known as the "Great Leader," arranged for his son to take credit for a "70-day battle" before he was tapped as his father's successor. Kim Jong Il - the "Dear Leader" - formally assumed leadership upon his father's death in 1994.

"Since Kim had a stroke last year, North Korea appears to be in a hurry in naming his successor," Isozaki said.

Many believe Jong Un might lead with the backing and guidance of his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, a member of the all-powerful National Defense Commission who has strong military and political connections.

Little is known about Jong Un, the second son of former dancer Ko Yong Hi, who died of cancer in 2004.

He studied at the International School in Bern, Switzerland, in the 1990s. The Swiss weekly news magazine L'Hebdo reported that he used the pseudonym Pak Chol and learned to speak English, German and French.

A classmate recalled him as timid and introverted but an avid skier and basketball player who was a big fan of the NBA star Michael Jordan and action film star Jean-Claude Van Damme. He was humble and friendly with the children of American diplomats and often helped break up fights between classmates, a former school director said.

A car arrived every day after school to pick him up, the report said; classmates and school officials thought he was the driver's son.

The eldest son, Jong Nam, 38, was considered the favorite to succeed his father until he was caught trying to enter Japan on a fake passport in 2001. He reportedly told Japanese officials he wanted to visit Tokyo's Disney resort.

Kim considers the middle son, Jong Chol, too effeminate for the job, according to his former sushi chef.


Associated Press writers Shino Yuasa in Tokyo and William Foreman in Seoul contributed to this report.

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