Kim Jong Un
Kim Jong Un. Image: zennie62/Flickr/CC BY-ND

Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s enigmatic leader, is dead at the age of 69. The news was announced officially Monday. Reports say the leader actually died two days earlier. His third son, Kim Jong Un, is believed to be his successor as leader of the country.

Televised announcement

North Korean citizens were told in a television broadcast Monday that their “dear leader” had died. Officials said that Kim died two days earlier while traveling on a  train. The official cause of the death was heart attack.

The late leader suffered a stroke in 2008, but was believed to be recovering well following a prolonged recovery.

The leader

Kim Jong Il came to power when his father, Kim Il Sung, died in 1994. North Korean legend says that he was born on sacred Mount Paekdu in 1942. But Soviet records mark his birth in the Russian city of Khabarovsk in 1941.

His father had lived in Soviet Russia for many years while Japan colonized Korea. From abroad, he fought for his country’s independence. Kim Il Sung regained power after Japan was defeated in World War II. But unlike other Stalinists, Kim Il Sung tried to cultivate an almost movie-star like image of himself.

Kim Jong Il continued in his father’s footsteps as a ruthless Stalinist with a gaudy pop star presentation. He typically wore jumpsuits and large sunglasses, sporting a puffy permed hairdo. He is said to have liked basketball and American films. “Rambo” and “Friday the 13th” were reported to be his favorites.

As a leader, like his father, it was always “military first.” Even during a period of famine, the troops were always well-fed as many starved. He pushed for nuclear proliferation, and North Korea first successfully tested an atomic bomb in October 2006. In 2007 Kim Jong Il signed a pact with regional leaders agreeing to disarm in exchange for aid. However, that process broke down and remains stalled.

White House reaction

The White House released a statement late Sunday evening:

“We are closely monitoring reports that Kim Jong Il is dead. The President has been notified, and we are in close touch with our allies in South Korea and Japan. We remain committed to stability on the Korean peninsula, and to the freedom and security of our allies.”

The sons

Kim Jong Il had three sons. The eldest, Kim Jong Nam, 38, is believed to be in ill-favor his father. In 2001 he was caught trying to flee to Japan with a fake passport. As his defense, the eldest son said that he only wanted to visit the Disney theme park in Tokyo.

The younger two sons were born of a different mother. Both Kim Jong Chul and Kim Jong Il are in their twenties. It is unclear if Kim Jong Il is 27 or 28.

In spite of his youth, Kim Jung Un was given a series of high-ranking positions and it is widely-assumed that he has been groomed to succeed his father.

Kim Jong Un has already shown indication that he will continue his father’s strict, military-strong stance. The U.S.-friendly South Korea has accused Kim Jong Un of masterminding the Myanmar bombing in 1983 that killed 17 prominent South Koreans. In 1987, he was said to have personally given the order to plant a bomb on a South Korean flight. All 115 people on board that flight were killed.

Sources

Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/18/kim-jong-il-dead-north-korea_n_1156945.html?icid=maing-grid7|maing9|dl1|sec1_lnk1%26pLid%3D121234
The Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-kim-jong-il-20111219,0,596767.story
BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-16239693

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