North Korean leader Kim uses lookalikes for fear of terror attempts

The Associated Press/September 29, 2006

Seoul, South Korea -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Il uses at least two lookalikes copying himself at some public events due to fears for his safety, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Friday.

The lookalikes have so strikingly similar appearances to the reclusive leader that even North Korean officials accompanying the fakes don't know it, Yonhap said, citing unidentified South Korean intelligence officials.

"As far as I know, at least two Kim Jong Il lookalikes fill in for him for some lower profile official events to reduce the chances of Kim being exposed to terrorist attempts," an official was quoted as saying.

Kim, who commands a strong cult of personality and is revered as a demigod in his totalitarian state, also sends the fakes when his health is bad and he doesn't want to look weak in front of his people, another official was quoted as saying.

The lookalikes had plastic surgery and were trained to speak and behave like Kim. They are of the same age, same height and with the same bouffant hairstyle and pot belly as Kim, the officials were quoted as saying.

The South's main spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, declined to confirm the report.

It's unclear if the North's leader faces a challenge to his grip on power. But there have been occasional reports of armed rebellion, food riots and anti-government leaflets in North Korea, although they couldn't be independently confirmed.

Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was also believed to have had a number of lookalikes taking his place at public events.

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