North Korea on Monday hailed Kim Jong-Il’s young son as a “great successor” at the helm of the isolated country after the leader who built an atomic arsenal and presided over a devastating famine died. On state television a tearful announcer delivered the news of Kim’s demise at 69 from a heart attack, and the station aired footage of hysterical North Koreans, young and old alike, pounding the ground in displays of abject grief. Pyongyang urged service personnel and citizens to rally behind Kim’s youngest son Jong-Un, who is in his late 20s and was last year made a four-star general and given top ruling party posts despite having had no public profile.
It is the nuclear-armed pariah nation’s second dynastic succession, and analysts said there would probably be little turbulence – at least for now – in the North, whose unpredictable behaviour has long destabilised the region. “All party members, military men and the public should faithfully follow the leadership of comrade Kim Jong-Un and protect and further strengthen the unified front of the party, military and the public,” said the black-clad television announcer. The official Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) quoted officials and citizens pledging their allegiance to the Swiss-educated new leader. It described him as “a prominent thinker-theoretician and peerlessly illustrious commander”, thanks to whom “the DPRK is more strikingly displaying its dignity and might as an invincible military power”.
South Korea put its military on emergency alert after the senior Kim’s death was announced but urged its people to stay calm, and swiftly closed ranks with its close ally the United States. Neighbouring China and Russia, both influential players in Pyongyang, sent their condolences and observers said Beijing would beef up its all-important patronage to prevent an implosion in the communist North. There was wariness about where North Korea goes now under Kim Jong-Un, but Britain, France and Germany voiced tentative hope for a new dawn at the end of a tumultuous year that has seen regimes topple across the Middle East. The “Dear Leader”, according to KCNA, “passed away from a great mental and physical strain” at 8:30 am on Saturday (2330 GMT Friday) while travelling by train on one of his field trips. It said Kim died of a “severe myocardial infarction along with a heart attack”. He had suffered a stroke in August 2008 which triggered an acceleration in the succession plans.
Kim’s funeral will be held on December 28 in Pyongyang but no foreign delegations will be invited, KCNA said. National mourning was declared until December 29. North Korea’s propaganda machine has rolled into action to build up the same personality cult for Jong-Un that surrounded his father and late grandfather Kim Il-Sung, the founder and “eternal leader” of North Korea who died in 1994. “The North’s top guys have already sorted out everything and the regime seems to be stable under the new leadership,” said Paik Hak-Soon of Seoul’s Sejong Institute.