The Korean Succession: Fears of power struggle in North Korea: At home, Kim Jong Il is seen as his father's heir but abroad there are concerns that this mystery man could have a destabilising effect

NORTH KOREANS yesterday mourned Kim Il Sung by laying wreaths in front of his statues across the country, while the state- run media repeatedly promoted his son, Kim Jong Il, as the natural successor to run the Communist state.

But the death of the 82-year-old dictator has raised concerns outside the country of a destabilising political struggle, and of disruption to the negotiations with the United States over North Korea's suspected nuclear weapons programme. The key to predicting the future lies in the mysterious and reclusive figure of Kim Jong Il.

Kim Il Sung died at 2 am last Friday of a heart attack, but the news was not released until midday on Saturday by the official media. Within hours the broadcasts of the news of his death were interspersed with eulogies for the 52- year-old Kim Jong Il, whom his father had anointed as his successor but whose grip on power is regarded by many as tenuous.

The news of president Kim's death overshadowed the Group of Seven summit in Naples. President Bill Clinton expressed concern that the talks on the nuclear issue should not be delayed. North Korean and US delegates had begun talks about Pyongyang's nuclear programme in Geneva on Friday, but they were suspended on Saturday. Mr Clinton said he hoped Kim Il Sung's successor would engage in dialogue to avoid the 'isolation and misunderstanding' of the past.

In the immediate future, it seems that Kim Jong Il will succeed his father. According to the state news agency, KCNA, yesterday, North Koreans 'firmly resolve to remain loyal to the guidance of the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il'. The agency described the so- called 'Dear Leader' as 'the reliable heir of Great Leader Kim Il Sung's revolutionary accomplishments'.

The country's Central Committee of the Communist Party and the People's Assembly have been ordered to gather in Pyongyang today ostensibly to prepare for the Great Leader's funeral, but probably also to elect his successor.

But there was a whiff of hyperbole to the glowing statements of support for Kim Jong Il, and some North Korea-watchers suspect there is opposition in the senior ranks of the military to the first dynastic succession from father to son in the Communist world.

True to its secretive, hermit-like instincts, North Korea said no foreigners would be invited to the Great Leader's funeral on 17 July. Several foreign politicians bearing visas were not allowed on a plane in Peking for Pyongyang on Saturday after news of the President's death was announced.

The greatest mystery of all surrounds Kim Jong Il. He has made an art of being invisible in his own country. He has never been known to have delivered a speech in public - his wise guidance is usually read out by an announcer on the radio. In April 1992, during a military parade he shouted out 'Glory to the officers and soldiers of the Korean people', which is thought to be the only time he said anything in public.

In between the extravagant eulogies in the state media to Dear Leader's deeds, there are long periods when he is not mentioned.

For some North Korea-watchers, this low profile was a deliberate tactic worked out by Kim Jong Il to avoid attracting animosity from older party leaders of his father's generation, who might resent taking orders from a relatively young man who owed his position to his birth.

Others speculate that Kim Jong Il is simply not capable of the delicate politicking and power- broking that a Communist leader needs to survive, and that his reclusiveness is a sign of his weakness in the state hierarchy. Kim Jong Il seems to have an aversion to meeting foreigners.

Apart from an unconfirmed period of study in East Germany, where he is thought to have learned to fly, a visit to China and possibly a trip to an unnamed 'tropical island', he has not travelled overseas.

When foreign dignitaries came to Pyongyang to meet his father, requests to see the elusive son were usually met with excuses of his being in the countryside among the people. He seems to be sensitive about his relative shortness: he wears platform shoes, and on a rare occasion when he did meet a foreigner, he reportedly introduced himself by saying: 'I am not a very handsome man, am I? I am about the size of a dwarf.'

His passion for cinema is legendary: he is reputed to have a library of about 20,000 films, and has a staff of about 100 people whose sole job is to subtitle foreign films in Korean.

According to Shin Sang Ok, a South Korean film-maker who spent eight years in North Korea making films with Kim Jong Il, the Dear Leader's favourite film was 'Friday the 13th'. He liked James Bond films and Elizabeth Taylor. Mr Shin said Kim Jong Il was clever but short-tempered, a 'spoiled boy' who relished the official plaudits for the films he made because he liked people to think of him as a man of culture.

Kim Jong Il smokes Dunhill cigarettes and drinks Hennessy brandy, and diplomats who have been stationed in Pyongyang have repeatedly come across Thai and Swedish prostitutes who have apparently been flown in specially for the Dear Leader.

But although he has a widespread reputation among foreigners resident in Pyongyang as being a spoiled playboy, few have ever met him.

There are even stories of him arranging parties and then watching the entire proceedings in private on video monitors. Separating fact from fiction is difficult: South Korea has added to the confusion by demonising the North Korean regime.

Seoul was quick to blame Kim Jong Il for organising the bombing of the South Korean cabinet in Rangoon in 1983 and for the blowing up of a South Korean jet over the Andaman Sea in 1987 - but there is no proof he was involved. There is also no proof that Kim Jong Il, as has been claimed, heads a group of younger party officials who favour more economic openness than the old guard of Kim Il Sung and his co-revolutionaries.

Apart from his relative youth and lack of experience - he is a marshal in the military hierarchy, although he never served in any of the armed forces - Kim Jong Il may also face difficulties from other members of his family.

He was born in 1942, close to Khabarovsk in the Russian Far East, where his father had taken refuge from the Japanese then occupying Korea. Seven years later his mother died in childbirth, and Kim Il Sung's second wife, Kim Song Ae, never got on with her stepson. She has had four children by Kim Il Sung, and has been pushing their cause, particularly that of her eldest son, Kim Pyong Il, ambassador to Finland.

It is unclear whether Kim Jong Il can step into the shoes of the extraordinary personality cult that Kim Il Sung created. With North Korea facing food shortages and economic decay at home, and increasing pressure over its suspected nuclear weapons programme, the transition of power after the Great Leader's death has taken on a deadly serious character.

But as with the comets in the sky, the world can only watch and wait.

(Photographs and graphic omitted)

Obituary 16

Leading article 17

Life after the Great Leader 18

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee