Illness of Dear Leader Kim Jong Il is a 'Western conspiracy'

Times, UK/September 11, 2008

The hermetically sealed regime of North Korea dismissed yesterday the swirling doubts over the health of the Dear Leader as a "worthless conspiracy plot" concocted by the West.

In an attempt to scotch speculation that Kim Jong Il had suffered a stroke, as suggested by several intelligence sources yesterday, Kim Yong Nam, North Korea's second-in-command, told reporters that there were "no problems" with his master's health.

Without referring to the health issue, the Korean Central News Agency - the propaganda mouthpiece of Pyongyang - even offered proof that the dictator was well, pointing to a birthday telegram he sent to President Assad of Syria on Wednesday.

In a closed emergency parliamentary session in the South Korean capital, however, representatives of the country's main intelligence agency asserted that Mr Kim had suffered a stroke, but would recover.

Focus has now shifted to what, if any, plans are in place to establish a successor to the Dear Leader if he is incapacitated. Mr Kim's power rests in his total control of a personality cult centred on him and his father and he has not yet mooted the idea of that cult being enlarged.

As one South Korean government source put it, having constantly pounded the North Korean people with the rhetoric that Mr Kim is the brain of the country, Pyongyang's notoriously potent propaganda machine has painted itself into a corner by not introducing any alternative brains.

The succession question is not new. In 2006 intelligence experts in Seoul predicted that the regime would "go dark" for some months while the top echelons of the military fought for power.

Suggestions that the regime might, in the absence of Mr Kim, choose a crude form of collective leadership are dismissed by veteran Korea-watchers - the propaganda machines of Mr Kim and his father have spent nearly 50 years assuring North Koreans that their destiny lies in strong leadership by a single man.

The greatest question mark hangs over Mr Kim's own view of who should follow him. He has three sons but, critically, his own people do not know who they are and none has been groomed as a successor.

Brian Myers, an authority on North Korea at Dongseo University, told The Times that Mr Kim's absence from the 60th anniversary celebrations on Tuesday could not be dismissed as part of the dictator's unpredictability. North Korea had been building up to the event all year.

When Kim Dae Jung, the elderly South Korean President, visited Pyongyang in 2000, the regime made a huge issue of his frail appearance. This was contrasted with inflated assertions about the Dear Leader, who was said to be fighting fit.

Dr Myers said: "The propaganda machine just will not be able to reconcile what it has said about Kim in the past with the image of him on a sick bed, if that is what they now have."

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