North Korea denies Kim Jong-il is ill

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North Korea today dismissed reports that leader Kim Jong-il might be seriously ill, a development that could trigger a power shift in Asia's only communist dynasty.

Speculation grew after the reclusive 66-year-old leader, widely believed to suffer from debilitating illnesses, failed to appear at a parade yesterday to mark the country's 60th anniversary since its founding. A US intelligence official said he might have suffered a stroke.

"(There is) no problem," North Korea's nominal number two leader, Kim Yong-nam, told Japan's Kyodo news agency in Pyongyang.

Senior North Korean diplomat Song Il-ho told Kyodo earlier: "We see such reports as not only worthless, but rather as a conspiracy plot."

The health concerns come just as the North appears to be going back on a deal with major powers to scrap a programme to develop nuclear weapons in return for massive financial aid and a chance to be accepted into the rest of the world.

But South Korean MPs said after a briefing by the country's spy chief that Kim had suffered a stroke but his condition was under control.

"He is not gravely ill," one ruling party MP was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.

The death of Kim would create huge uncertainty over leadership in a country whose deep distrust of the outside world is backed by one of the globe's largest standing armies and probably has atomic weapons.

The North has threatened to turn its wealthy neighbour in the south to dust and considers Japan and the United States as mortal enemies.

Kim's health and possible successor are two of the most closely guarded secrets in the paranoid state.

South Korea said in a 2006 intelligence report that when Kim died, it expected the North Korean government to lapse into a brief coma and then hunker down with top military officials battling for power, perhaps in partnership with one of Kim's three known sons.