Region holds its breath over Kim's succession

THOUSANDS of tearful North Koreans filed past a huge bronze staute of Kim Il Sung in central Pyongyang yesterday, laying wreaths to the only leader they have known. But while the country grieves, its neighbours hold their breath, anxious to see whether there will be a smooth transfer of power, and what effects the Great Leader's death will have on North Korea's nuclear programme.

The armed forces of South Korea and Japan and US troops in the region were put on alert, though no unusual troop movements were monitored in North Korea. South Korea's President, Kim Young Sam, called an emergency cabinet meeting soon after the announcement of the death. He said people should remain vigilant, but there was no immediate cause for concern.

In the longer term, attention is focused on Kim Jong Il, 52, the son of Kim Il Sung, who for 20 years has been groomed to take over from his father. Dubbed the 'Dear Leader', Kim Jong Il is a mysterious and little-known figure, even by North Korean standards. Associated by some with vicious terrorist attacks against South Korean targets, including the blowing up of half the South Korean cabinet in Rangoon in 1983 and the bombing of an airliner over the Indian Ocean in 1987, Kim is thought to enjoy less than the full support of the military. It is unclear whether he will be able to maintain the same hold on power as his father did for 46 years.

A short man with a shrill voice, Kim Jong Il is given to wearing platform shoes, smoking American cigarettes and watching American films on video.

He has a reputation as a spoilt playboy. He studied in the former East Germany and has made at least one trip to China, but otherwise has little overseas experience, and rarely meets foreign dignitaries.

There seems little doubt that he will take over for the time being. Since the Great Leader's death was announced, the state radio has been mixing revolutionary music and readings from Kim Il Sung with extravagant praise for his son. 'Today, at the forefront of our revolution stands Comrade Kim Jong Il, great successor of the Juche (self-reliance) revolution, brilliant leader of the party and the people, and top commander of revolutionary armed forces,' said Pyongyang radio.

But North Korea watchers argue that if Kim Jong Il's position were secure, there would be no need for the outlandish propaganda which portrays him as a great scientist, philosopher, musician, industrial planner and protector of war orphans. The Chinese have long been opposed to his succession, though they have expressed their disapproval mainly by saying nothing about him.

The North Korean military has also been rumoured to be opposed to the Dear Leader. He has the official rank of marshal, is technically head of the million-strong armed forces, and is regularly cited as a military genius - though he has never actually served a day in the army.

Above all, it is unclear whether it is possible for someone to step into Kim Il Sung's shoes. Everyone in North Korea is ranked according to their level of loyalty to the Great Leader himself. There are three main classes, distinguished by colour-coded lapel badges: the 'core' class of most trusted revolutionaries; the 'wavering' class whose loyalty may be suspect; and the 'hostile' class which has been found to oppose the regime and is subjected to hard labour in work camps.

Now that Kim Il Sung is gone, it will be difficult to replicate the same structure by shifting loyalties onto anyone else, even his son.

But while South Korea worries about the prospect of a power vacuum that could lead to the collapse of the Communist North, with attendant huge reunification costs, the rest of the world is primarily concerned with North Korea's secretive nuclear programme.

Kim Jong Il has taken little part in the diplomatic manoeuvring among Pyongyang, Washington and the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna over the past 18 months, and his views on his country's suspected nuclear weapons programme are a mystery.

The talks between the US and North Korea about the nuclear issue, which began in Geneva on Friday, have been suspended. President Clinton has said that, after a period of mourning, he wants to see the talks reconvened.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine