N Korea stalls Kim's last rites

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The Independent Online
THE FUNERAL of Kim Il Sung, North Korea's Great Leader for 46 years, has been delayed two days until tomorrow. Pyongyang attributed the postponement on Saturday to the increasingly large crowds of mourners, but suspicions of a power struggle over the succession of his son, Kim Jong Il, were immediately raised in the South.

Since the death of his father on 8 July, Kim Jong Il has been mentioned repeatedly by Pyongyang radio as the natural successor to rule the country.

But it has been thought for some time that high-ranking officers in the armed forces oppose the younger Kim, who lacks his father's revolutionary credentials and has not served a day in the army.

He is thought also to be in conflict with his stepmother, Kim Song Ae, who has apparently been edited out of recent television coverage of the mourning ceremonies.

Even South Korea is at a loss to explain the delay in Kim Il Sung's funeral. If history is a guide, a smooth transition of power from Kim Il Sung to his son, Kim Jong Il, may be called into question. The deaths of Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse-tung, both subjects of intense personality cults, unleashed chaotic power struggles among their formerly cowed subjects. In both cases, the favourite to succeed the great man was shoved aside.

The favourite for Stalin's job was Lavrenti Beria, his ruthless chief of secret police. But within three months of Stalin's death in March 1953, Beria had been arrested and shot. Nikita Khrushchev took over as the leader of the Soviet Union and promptly dismantled the personality cult that surrounded Stalin.

In China, as Mao Tse-tung was ailing, the Gang of Four usurped day-to-day power. But within three months of Mao's death the Gang of Four was arrested and the reformer, Deng Xiaoping, took over. The personality cult of Mao was vilified.

If Kim Jong Il has been reading his history books, the earnest messages of support from the country will not sound that comforting. The outward image of a monolithic Communist Party structure is deceptive.

Inheriting a personality cult that for nearly half a century glorified his father will be difficult: 50,000 statues of Kim Il Sung grace the North Korean countryside. Millions of Kim Il Sung badges are worn on people's lapels.

Kim Jong Il was only three years old when the Japanese left Korea in 1945, and has never demonstrated a talent for leadership. Television footage of him beside his father's coffin has shown a timid, pale-faced man, who seems to have little of the charisma that made Kim Il Sung his people's Great Leader.