North Korean television announced in a “special broadcast” that its leader, Kim Jong Il, is dead.
News of Kim’s death was made public on Monday, with officials indicating that he actually died two days earlier while riding a train.
The Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s state news agency, issued several statements on Monday. A release titled “Kim Jong Il Passes Away (Urgent)” said that he “passed away from great mental and physical strain” at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 17.
A separate article entitled “Medical Analysis of Kim Jong Il’s demise” added that Kim suffered an “advanced acute myocardial infarction, complicated with a serious heart shock.”
“All party members, military men and the public should faithfully follow the leadership of comrade Kim Jong-un and protect and further strengthen the unified front of the party, military and the public,” the news agency said.
A funeral for Kim Jong-il will be held in Pyongyang on 28 December and Kim Jong-un will head the funeral committee, KCNA said.
Kim reportedly suffered a stroke in 2008, but appeared relatively healthy on recent trips around Asia, which were documented by state media.
Reputed to have had a taste for cigars, cognac and gourmet cuisine and Hollywood movies, it was widely believed Kim suffered from diabetes and had heart disease.
But while he lived with his inner circle in the lap of luxury, his people lived in fear and most in abject poverty, suffering regular food shortages and near famine.
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.
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.”
The White House released a statement late Sunday evening in Washington: “We are closely monitoring reports that Kim Jong Il is dead.”
“The President has been notified, and we are in close touch with our allies in South Korea and Japan. We remain committed to stability on the Korean peninsula, and to the freedom and security of our allies.”
At midnight on Monday, President Barack Obama spoke with Republic of Korea President Lee-Myung-bak to discuss the Korean Peninsula situation. A White House release read:
“The President reaffirmed the United States’ strong commitment to the stability of the Korean Peninsula and the security of our close ally, the Republic of Korea. The two leaders agreed to stay in close touch as the situation develops and agreed they would direct their national security teams to continue close coordination.”
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, expressed grief and offered condolences.
Kim Jong Il took over after his father died in 1994, eventually taking the posts of chairman of the National Defense 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.
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.
But while he lived with his inner circle in the lap of luxury, his people lived in fear and most in abject poverty, suffering regular food shortages and near famine. [via The Telegraph, Huffington Post and Reuters]