As crowds of North Koreans were shown on television weeping and prostrating themselves before a huge statue of their semi-divine leader, members of the country's supreme state and party bodies were told to be in the capital, Pyongyang, by today. South Korea's National Security Planning Agency said there was a 'high possibility' that they might officially designate Kim Jong Il, 52, as his father's successor without waiting for the state funeral on Sunday.
North Korean radio broadcasts, which spent Saturday mourning the loss of the country's only leader since 1948, changed their tone yesterday to focus on the younger Kim. The 'Dear Leader' was extolled as the inheritor of his father's status, and people were heard referring to him in interviews as the 'Great Leader', a title previously used only for Kim Il Sung. With propaganda loudspeakers on the border between the two Koreas calling Kim Jong Il 'His Excellency', another title reserved for the head of state, it appeared that the son had consolidated his position and achieved the first dynastic succession in any Communist country.
Fears of an immediate power struggle were aroused at the weekend by the delay of more than 24 hours in announcing Kim Il Sung's death. American sources said there was no evidence that he had died of anything but natural causes, and border-watchers said that, if anything, there was less military activity than usual.
But so little is known about Kim Jong Il, even by North Korea's secretive standards, that tension will remain high in north-east Asia until it becomes clear how he intends to exercise power, and in particular whether he will continue negotiations on the country's suspect nuclear programme. On Friday, American and North Korean negotiators met in Geneva for the first time in nearly a year. Their talks were described as 'useful' and 'productive', but subsequent sessions were postponed after news of Kim Il Sung's death. Yesterday North Korea notified the US it would resume talks sometime after the funeral of Kim Il Sung. 'This is good news,' said a senior US official aboard President Bill Clinton's Air Force jet en route to Germany .
The leaders of the world's seven richest democracies and Russia, who were meeting in Naples as Kim Il Sung's death was announced, moved Korea up to third place on their closing political declarations yesterday. The Group of Seven called on Pyongyang to reveal full details of its nuclear programme and offered the carrot of a meeting between Kim Il Sung's successor and the United States if the regime abandoned its nuclear weapons ambitions.
China moved quickly yesterday to preserve its position as North Korea's principal - almost only - friend, pledging its support for Kim Jong Il.
Power struggle fears, page 9
G7 summit, page 10
Obituary, page 16
Leading article, page 17
The Great Leader's life, page 18