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Kim Jong Il Dead.
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North Korea's longtime leader Kim Jong Il dead at 69
North Korea's longtime leader Kim Jong Il dead at 69
North Korea's longtime leader Kim Jong Il, the embodiment of the reclusive state where his cult of personality is deeply entrenched, has died, state TV reported.
He was believed to be 69.
Regarded as one of the world's most-repressive leaders, Kim Jong Il always cut a slightly bizarre figure. His diminutive stature and characteristically bouffant hair have been parodied by some in the West.
"He's a mysterious person -- I think by design," said Han S. Park, director of the Center for the Study of Global Issues at the University of Georgia and a frequent visitor to North Korea. "Mystery is a source of leverage and power. It's maintaining uncertainty."
But for the citizens of his Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Kim was the embodiment of the reclusive state, and well regarded.
His father, Kim Il Sung, founded North Korea with Soviet backing after World War II.
Kim Jong Il was just a little boy when the Korean War broke out in 1950 when the Communist North invaded the American-backed South. After the fighting ended, Kim became steeped in his father's philosophy of "juche" or self-reliance -- the basis of North Korea's reclusive nature. North and South Korea never formally signed a peace treaty and remain technically at war -- separated by a tense demilitarized zone.
North Korea gives Kim's official birthplace as sacred Mount Paektu. The peak, on the northern border with Chinese Manchuria, is the highest on the peninsula and the site where Korean legend says the nation came into existence 5,000 years ago.
Cause of death reported to be "overwork"
Researchers who are more objective place Kim's birth in the Far Eastern region of the Soviet Union on February 16, 1942. His father had fled to the Soviet Union when the Japanese put a price on his head for guerrilla activities in occupied Korea. The family returned to the northern part of the peninsula after the Japanese surrender in World War II, and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin anointed Kim Il Sung as the leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Kim Jong Il's younger brother drowned as a child and his mother died when he was 7 years old. Shortly after, in 1950, the Korean War broke out and he was sent to Manchuria, returning three years later when it ended.
Despite these hardships, Kim Jong Il was presumably surrounded by luxury and privilege for most of his upbringing. As the first-born son of an iron-🤬 dictator, "the doors were likely opening for him from a very young age," according to Dae-sook Suh, a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii who specializes in the Pyongyang government.
Gradually Kim Jong Il was groomed for the top position, making public appearances in front of cheering crowds.
In 1980, Kim Il Sung formally designated his son as his successor. Kim Jong Il was given senior posts in the Politburo, the Military Commission and the Party Secretariat. He took on the title "Dear Leader" and the government began spinning a personality cult around him patterned after that of his father, the "Great Leader."
In 1991, Kim Jong Il became commander-in-chief of North Korea's powerful armed forces, the final step in the long grooming process.
Three years later, when Kim Il Sung died suddenly from a heart attack at 82, most outsiders predicted the imminent collapse of North Korea. The nation had lost its venerated founding father.
Just a few years earlier, its powerful alliances had evaporated with the fall of the Soviet bloc and China's move toward a market-based system. The economy was on the rocks and energy and food were in short supply. A series of weather disasters, combined with an inefficient state-run agricultural system, further eroded the food supply, leading to mass starvation.
The timing could not have been worse for replacing the only leader North Korea had known.
"Heaven didn't smile on Kim Jong Il," said the University of Hawaii's Dae-sook Suh.
After his father's elaborate public funeral Kim Jong Il dropped out of sight, fueling rumors, but he soon managed to consolidate power.
Under his newly organized government, his father's presidential post was left vacant and Kim took the titles of general secretary of the Workers Party and chairman of the National Defense Commission -- a group of 10 men that includes the heads of the air force, army and navy, who are now considered the most powerful in the country.
"It's a peculiar government to say the least," Dae-sook Suh said. "He honors the legacy of his father, but the new government is a Kim Jong Il government. It's quite different from his father's."
Kim Il Sung's unique style of Stalinism, suffused with the Korean juche philosophy, was subordinated to the more militant theme of Kim Jong Il's "Red Banner" policy, introduced in 1996.
The changes afoot were dramatically illustrated in 1997 by the defection of Hwang Jang Yop -- the architect of the juche philosophy and the first high-level official to seek asylum in South Korea.
In a news conference after his defection, Hwang warned of a growing possibility that his homeland might launch an attack. "The preparation for war exceeds your imagination," he said.
Many outsiders viewed the flight of Hwang as another sign that the North Korean regime was on its last legs, but once again it weathered the storm, perhaps even benefiting from the fears of war heightened by Hwang's warning.
Despite sending a test missile over Japan in June 1999 and other such incidents, North Korea under Kim Jong Il also sent signals that it is open to new alliances after decades of isolation. Billions of dollars in international aid poured into North Korea during the 1990s, which did little in return.
Many analysts conclude that Kim Jong Il has played a poor hand of cards skillfully...
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