'Organised hysteria' for Kim Il Sung

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The Independent Online
PUBLIC sorrow in the form of what diplomatic observers called 'mass, organised hysteria' swept North Korea yesterday in the wake of the death on Friday of Kim Il Sung, aged 82, the country's Communist leader for the past 46 years. His death also cast a shadow of uncertainty over the nuclear talks between North Korea and the US in Geneva, and immediately dominated the proceedings at the G7 summit in Naples.

The US President, Bill Clinton, expressed his condolences to North Korea on the death of their 'Great Leader', but added that he wanted crucial talks on North Korea's suspect nuclear programme to be continued in the near future. 'We hope that the talks will resume . . . We believe it is in the interest of both countries to continue,' he said. The talks had begun on Friday, but were suspended after the news of Kim Il Sung's death.

It is a measure of how seriously the world has come to take North Korea's nuclear threat that the seven most powerful leaders of the industrialised world should dedicate such attention to the death of a leader of a small Communist state of 22 million people. Dismissed for decades as an absurd megalomaniac with Stalinist pretensions, Kim Il Sung, over the past two years, had managed to project himself into the centre of an increasingly anguished worldwide debate over how to deal with his maverick country and its apparently advanced nuclear weapons programme. With a mixture of adroit diplomacy and threats of war, the 'Great Leader' had manoeuvred into a position of strength where he could almost write his own cheque in exchange for abandoning his nuclear ambitions.

His successor is expected to be his son, Kim Jong Il, who is not thought to enjoy the same level of support in the military and bureaucracy. He is a small man given to wearing platform shoes, smoking Western cigarettes and watching Western films on video. He has a reputation as a spoilt playboy. Some students of North Korea fear the succession of Kim Jong Il could spark a power struggle in Pyongyang, the country's capital. Popular disillusion with the ruling Workers Party is thought to be high.

Yesterday, thousands of weeping North Koreans, many carrying flowers, streamed to a huge statue of Kim Il Sung that looms over the capital, mourning the only leader they had ever known.

South Korea's President, Kim Young Sam, yesterday ordered his Cabinet to prepare for any contingency, and South Korea's armed forces were put on heightened alert. The first summit of the leaders of the two Koreas had been scheduled for two weeks' time in Pyongyang, to discuss the nuclear issue. That meeting is now likely to be cancelled.

The god who died, page 9

(Photograph omitted)