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North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was a Cold War-era leader in modern times

By Jean H. Lee and Rafael Wober

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 05:40 a.m. HST, Dec 19, 2011


PYONGYANG, North Korea >> Even as the world changed around him, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il remained firmly in control, ruling absolutely at home and keeping the rest of the world on edge through a nuclear weapons program.

Inheriting power from his father in 1994, he led his nation through a devastating famine while frustrating the U.S. and other global powers with an on-again, off-again approach to talks on giving up nuclear arms in return for energy and other assistance. Kim was one of the last remnants of a Cold War-era that ended years earlier in most other countries.

His death was announced Monday by state television two days after he died. North Korea's news agency reported that he had died at 8:30 a.m. Saturday after having a heart attack on a train, adding that he had been treated for cardiac and cerebrovascular diseases for a long time. He was 69.

Kim, who reputedly had a taste for cigars, cognac and gourmet cuisine, is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008 but he had appeared relatively vigorous in photos and video from recent trips to China and Russia and in numerous trips around the country documented by state media.

His longtime pursuit of nuclear weapons and his military's repeated threats to South Korea and the U.S. stoked worries that fighting might break out again on the Korean peninsula or that North Korea might provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorist movements. The Korean War ended more than 50 years ago in a cease-fire, and the two sides remain technically in a state of war.

Kim Jong Il, who took power after the death of his father, unveiled his third son as his successor in September 2010, putting the twenty-something Kim Jong Un in high-ranking posts. On Monday, the North Korean news agency dubbed the son a "great successor" as the country rallied around him.

Few firm facts are available when it comes to North Korea, and not much is clear about Kim Jong Il, the man known as the "Dear Leader."

North Korean legend has it that Kim was born on Mount Paektu, one of Korea's most cherished sites, in 1942, a birth heralded in the heavens by a pair of rainbows and a brilliant new star. Soviet records, however, indicate he was born in Siberia in 1941.

His father, Kim Il Sung, is still revered as the founder of North Korea. The elder Kim fought for independence from Korea's colonial ruler, Japan, from a base in Russia for years. He returned to Korea in 1945, emerging as a communist leader and becoming North Korea's first leader in 1948.

He meshed Stalinist ideology with a cult of personality that encompassed him and his son. Their portraits hang in every building in North Korea, and every dutiful North Korean wears a Kim Il Sung lapel pin.

Kim Jong Il, a graduate of Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung University, was 33 when his father anointed him his eventual successor.

Even before he took over, there were signs the younger Kim would maintain — and perhaps exceed — his father's hard-line stance.

South Korea has accused Kim of masterminding a 1983 bombing that killed 17 South Korean officials visiting Burma, now known as Myanmar. In 1987, the bombing of a Korean Air flight killed all 115 people on board; a North Korean agent who confessed to planting the device said Kim had ordered the downing of the plane.

When Kim came to power in 1994, he had been groomed for 20 years to become leader. He eventually took the posts of chairman of the National Defense Commission, commander of the Korean People's Army and head of the ruling Worker's Party. His father remained as North Korea's "eternal president."

He continued his father's policy of "military first," devoting much of the country's scarce resources to its troops — even as his people suffered from a prolonged famine — and built the world's fifth-largest military.

Kim also sought to build up the country's nuclear arms arsenal, leading to North Korea's first nuclear test, an underground blast conducted in October 2006. Another test came in 2009, prompting U.N. sanctions.

Alarmed, regional leaders negotiated a disarmament-for-aid pact that the North signed in 2007 and began implementing later that year. The process has since stalled, though diplomats are working to restart negotiations.

Following the famine, the number of North Koreans fleeing the country rose dramatically, with many telling tales of hunger, political persecution and rights abuses. North Korea is estimated to hold 150,000 to 200,000 people in political prisons; the government denies operating any such camps.

Kim often blamed the U.S. for his country's troubles and his regime routinely derides Washington-allied South Korea as a puppet of the Western superpower.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush described Kim as a tyrant. "Look, Kim Jong Il is a dangerous person. He's a man who starves his people. He's got huge concentration camps. And ... there is concern about his capacity to deliver a nuclear weapon," Bush said in 2005.

Defectors from North Korea describe Kim as an eloquent and tireless orator, primarily to the military units that form the base of his support.

He also made numerous trips to factories and other sites to offer what North Korea calls "field guidance." As recently as last week, the North's news agency reported on trips to a supermarket and a music and dance center.

"In order to run the center in an effective way, he said, it is important above all to collect a lot of art pieces including Korean music and world famous music," the Korean Central News Agency story read in part.

The world's best glimpse of the man came in 2000, when a liberal South Korean government's conciliatory "sunshine" policy toward the North culminated in the first-ever summit between the two Koreas. A second summit was held in 2007 with then South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.

Standing 5-foot-3, Kim wore platform shoes and sported a permed bouffant. His trademark attire of jumpsuits and sunglasses was mocked in the American film "Team America: World Police," a movie populated by puppets that was released in 2004.

Kim was said to have wide interests, including professional basketball, cars and foreign films. He reportedly produced several films, mostly historical epics with an ideological tinge.

A South Korean film director claims Kim had him and his movie star wife kidnapped in the late 1970s, spiriting them to North Korea to make movies for a decade before they managed to escape during a trip to Austria.

Kim rarely traveled abroad and then only by train because of an alleged fear of flying, once heading all the way by luxury rail car to Moscow, indulging in his taste for fine food along the way.

One account of Kim's lavish lifestyle came from Konstantin Pulikovsky, a former Russian presidential envoy who wrote the book "The Orient Express" about Kim's train trip through Russia in July and August 2001.

Pulikovsky, who accompanied the North Korean leader, said Kim's 16-car private train was stocked with crates of French wine. Live lobsters were delivered in advance to stations.

A Japanese cook later claimed he was Kim's personal sushi chef for a decade, writing that Kim had a wine cellar stocked with 10,000 bottles, and that, besides sushi, Kim ate shark's fin soup — a rare delicacy — weekly.

"His banquets often started at midnight and lasted until morning. The longest lasted for four days," the chef, who goes by the pseudonym Kenji Fujimoto, was quoted as saying.

Kim is believed to have curbed his indulgent ways in recent years and looked slimmer in more recent video footage aired by North Korea's state-run broadcaster.

Disputing accounts that Kim was "peculiar," former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright characterized Kim as intelligent and well-informed, saying the two had wide-ranging discussions during her visits to Pyongyang when Bill Clinton was U.S. president. "I found him very much on top of his brief," she said.

Kim's marital status wasn't clear but he is believed to have married once and had at least three other companions. He had at least three sons with two women, as well as a daughter by a third.

His eldest son, Kim Jong Nam, who is about 40, is believed to have fallen out of favor with his father after he was caught trying to enter Japan on a fake passport in 2001 saying he wanted to visit Disney's Tokyo resort.

His other sons include likely successor Kim Jong Un and the heir-apparent's older brother, Kim Jong Chol. Their mother reportedly died several years ago.

___

Lee reported from Seoul, South Korea.







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ohnies wrote:
I don't mean to sound so disagreeable as to how the west and South Korea will spin this, but Kim Jong Il did an amazing thing that most will overlook. He kept international attention focused on North Korea avoiding both US/western, ROK and Chinese attempts to dominate the rich resources that North Korea has. Kim Jong-Il has deflected the sinking of the Cheonan conspiracy and despite massive sanctions kept North Korea viable against tremendous odds. Typically, attempts will be made to further destabilize the region testing Kim Jong-un's leadership. Unfortunately, the US is going to justify this to continue with their military build up against China and Russia in the Pacific, and from all sides, it will not surprise me if we see Kim Jong-um painted as someone whom the regional powers have to "protect."
on December 18,2011 | 06:19PM
Ewaduffer wrote:
Oh Comrade, you must think the recent missile attacks from the North against a small island full of mostly elderly civilians was a sneaky conspiracy by us Yankee imperialists and those mean Souh Koreans.
on December 18,2011 | 06:50PM
Anonymous wrote:
That might be so, but the people lived in abject poverty with under developed economics to provide enough resources for their own people both in food and power for housing and urban support. What kind of life did he provide for his own people?
on December 18,2011 | 06:56PM
omd111 wrote:
As Samuel L. Jackson said in A Time To Kill: "Yes they deserved to die. I hope they burn in hell."
on December 18,2011 | 07:09PM
Ewaduffer wrote:
Hip hip hooray!!!
on December 18,2011 | 06:39PM
Anonymous wrote:
WHAT TOOK HIM SO LONG ?????
on December 18,2011 | 08:13PM
bokuchan wrote:
It's good that he's dead but nothing will change for a while for the crazy Koreans.
on December 18,2011 | 09:07PM
sloturle wrote:
hope this kid isn't too nuts about war
on December 18,2011 | 09:40PM
GorillaSmith wrote:
Say hi to bin Laden, Pol Pot and Hussein when you get to Hell.
on December 18,2011 | 11:01PM
HD36 wrote:
The N. Koreans have nuclear weapons. They are part of the "Axis of Evil " They may wipe Japan or Sourth Korea from the face of the earth. Should we start a war and drop bombs on them too? Should the US keep paying for the defense of Japan and South Korea, two economies that are not bankrupt like the United States?
on December 18,2011 | 11:24PM
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