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Korean Central News Agency/AP
Kim Jong Il

Kim Jong Un Named as His Father's Successor

June 02, 2009 08:00 PM
by Josh Katz
After months of speculation, and just days after controversial nuclear testing in North Korea, the youngest son of Kim Jong Il was named as the probable next leader of the country.

A New Leader for North Korea

According to Associated Press reports, Kim Jong Il's youngest son, 26-year-old Kim Jong Un, will be North Korea's next leader. He represents the third generation of the family that is "the world's first communist dynasty," and North Koreans have already begun referring to him as "Commander Kim." North Korea's National Intelligence Service has not yet confirmed reports.

Known for being "competitive, proficient in English and a heavy drinker," Kim Jong Un has brought North Korea back into the headlines for the second time in the past few weeks. On May 25, nuclear testing was carried out in North Korea, drawing serious concerns from the global community, the AP reports.

According to Reuters, a South Korean news report indicated in January that Kim Jon Il had chosen Jong Un to succeed him. The health of North Korea’s “Dear Leader” had been under the microscope  since he missed a public appearance at a parade in September, and the various photographs of Kim that had surfaced since that time raised more questions about his health than they'd answered, according to Reuters.

Jon Un was educated in Switzerland and is allegedly considered the favorite son of the leader. According to Reuters, he has been described as an “intelligent and thoughtful man.” Some suggest that the choice of a young successor could help boost the image of Kim and the government in the eyes of the people.

Background: Speculation surrounding Jon Un

Jon Un's age was thought to be a potential obstacle to his succession, as seniority is highly respected in North Korea. South Korean analysts were supposedly surprised when Jon Un's name was suggested back in January, the Times of London reported. But sources speculated that if Jon Un was chosen, members of the current leadership would likely help the young leader govern the country.

Kim’s eldest son, Jong Nam was "considered the favorite to succeed his father," according to the AP, until "he was caught trying to enter Japan on a fake passport" because he "wanted to visit Tokyo's Disneyland."

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Related Topic: Kim’s absence led to reports of stroke

North Korean ruler Kim Jong Il did not attend festivities marking the 60th anniversary of the country’s declaration as an independent state last September.

Kim’s absence led to wild speculation about his health, including rumors that he had died. Reports suggested that Kim suffered either a stroke or cerebral hemorrage a few weeks before, according to The New York Times.

In October 2008, North Korean media released photos of Kim appearing in public for the first time in almost two months. But analysts claimed that the photos were old, raising more questions about the leader’s condition, Reuters reported.

In late December 2008, Kim apparently attended a concert, marking what would be his first major public outing since his absence at festivities in early September, according to Reuters.

Key Player: Kim Jong Il

There are conflicting reports as to the North Korean leader’s date and place of birth. A state-endorsed biography reports that Kim Jong Il was born on Feb. 16, 1942, on Mt. Packtul in Korea. However, Western researchers put his date of birth as 1941 and the place of birth as somewhere near Khabarovsk, Siberia.

Kim joined the Korean Worker’s Party in 1961 and was chosen as the successor to his father, “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung, in the early 1980s. Kim became North Korea’s leader in 1998, four years after his father’s death. His official title is chairman of the National Defense Commission.

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