Kim Jong-il, 60th anniversary of the founding of North Korea
Xinhua, Yao Dawei, File/AP
Kim Jong Il

Kim Jong Il’s Absence Sparks Rumors of Death

September 09, 2008 12:59 PM
by Anne Szustek
North Korea’s “Dear Leader” was noticeably absent from today’s celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the country’s founding, prompting speculation about his health.
North Korean ruler Kim Jong Il apparently did not attend festivities marking the 60th anniversary of the country’s declaration as an independent state Tuesday. Kim Yong-Nam, the country’s second-in command, took his place, directing the televised military parades venerating the state and the absent leader.

Kim’s absence is all the more perplexing because East Asian culture places particular significance on 60th anniversaries, which are considered auspicious because they symbolize the beginning of the traditional 60-year cycle.

Latest reports suggest that Kim Jong Il suffered a stroke. Kim, age 66, has chronic diabetes and heart disease, South Korean intelligence services told the International Herald Tribune. Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s largest daily paper, reported Tuesday that Kim collapsed Aug. 22.

The tight-lipped nature of state media and Kim’s absence have reignited conspiracy theories as to who is actually running North Korea. North Korea expert Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University, told Asia Times, “chances are high that Kim has already died,” saying the leader passed sometime during autumn 2003 and four body doubles have been governing in his place. Other analysts surmise that Kim Jong Il is but a figurehead to the outside world while someone else holds the real power.

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