N Korean heir-apparent 'hurt in shooting accident'

TOKYO (AFP) - Japanese security police have obtained unconfirmed information that Kim Jong Il, heir-apparent to North Korea's leader, Kim Il Sung, has been shot, the Sankei newspaper reported yesterday.

Sankei said in its evening editions that Japan's security authorities had obtained the information about the shooting after launching inquiries following a statement from a politician in South Korea. In Seoul, a South Korean opposition leader, Lee Ki Taek, told reporters earlier yesterday, quoting an informed foreign source, that the younger Kim had been accidentally incapacitated with 'serious physical injuries'.

Kim junior, North Korea's number two, marked his 52nd birthday on Tuesday but has reportedly not been seen in public for more than two months.

He has been groomed to succeed his 81-year-old father since the early 1970s. He took over the People's Army command two years ago.

Earlier, the South Korean capital was gripped by reports and denials of a rumour that Kim Jong Il had suffered serious injuries, possibly in an accident. Morning news reports quoted Mr Lee's comments concerning a serious injury and the story was picked up by the national news agency, Yonhap.

Mr Lee and members of his Democratic Party were besieged by reporters. Mr Lee, toning down the original reports, said he had only repeated what he had been told by a foreign diplomat on Monday - that the younger Kim may have suffered some kind of accident.

In a late-evening report Yonhap quoted South Korean defence sources as saying there were no grounds to support the rumour.

In 1987, South Korea's defence minister announced on television that Kim Il Sung had died. A few days later the 'Great Leader' was filmed greeting foreign dignitaries at Pyongyang airport.

VIENNA - The International Atomic Energy Agency said yesterday that Pyongyang had not yet issued visas for United Nations inspectors to visit North Korea but hoped they would be supplied by tomorrow, Reuter reports.

On Tuesday, Pyongyang averted an international crisis by agreeing to let atomic experts visit seven declared nuclear sites, thus ending a year's stand-off with the UN nuclear watchdog.

(Photograph omitted)