Kim Jong Il is finally official leader of North Korea

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The Independent Online
The world's most mysterious political figure, Kim Jong Il, yesterday finally got the promotion everyone had been waiting for and, for the first time in more than three years, North Korea, officially once again had a leader.

Mr Kim, the so-called "Dear Leader", was appointed general secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea, the Stalinist ruling party formerly headed by Mr Kim's father, Kim Il-sung, who died in July 1994. Confirmation that the 55-year-old Kim was formally inheriting his father's mantle had been delayed until the traditional three-year period of mourning was over, even though he was named as heir-apparent in 1974. The announcement was made this week to coincide with Friday's anniversary celebrations of the party's founding.

Mr Kim was already head of the armed forces, but he has not yet taken over his late father's position as state president, a job which may remain vacant for some time to come.

The spectacular show which is likely to be mounted tomorrow to mark the occasion will be in sharp contrast to the famine and economic collapse which has gripped North Korea for the past two years. The world will now be watching to see whether Mr Kim's formal appointment opens up any possibility of policy changes, in particular any hint that North Korea might consider the benefits experienced in neighbouring China from loosening rigid Communist economic theory. Little is known reliably about the man and whether he is likely to demonstrate any reformist tendencies.

The official propaganda about Mr Kim's appointment is beyond parody, claiming that the autumn blossoming of apricot and pear trees, and the capture by fishermen of a rare, albino sea cucumber, showed that Mr Kim had "heaven's mandate" to lead the country.

Teresa Poole