In North Korea, Lavish Praise For The Heir Apparent Kim Jong Un is playing a prominent role in his father's funeral and is already the object of fulsome praise from North Korea's official media.

In North Korea, Lavish Praise For The Heir Apparent

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

The body of Kim Jong-il, the deceased leader of North Korea, now lies in state in the capitol, Pyongyang. His sudden death has raised concerns about possible power struggles, but so far, all outward signs suggest that the North Korean leadership is lining up behind his son, Kim Jong-un.

NPR is Louisa Lim is following the story from Seoul, South Korea.


LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: North Korean state-run television today showed the first glimpse, since his father's death, of the man who inherits the mantle of power. Kim Jong-un looked as serious as the paid his respects, bowing to his father's body, which has been laid out in a glass coffin surrounded by flowers.

North Korean state propaganda is now calling the younger Kim another leader sent from heaven, a term formerly reserved for his father and grandfather.

PROFESSOR PAIK HAK-SOON: This is Kim Jong's heir. Kim Jong has been supported by the chief power holders in North Korea. There is no sign that there is any serious power struggle among his entourage at the moment.

LIM: That's Paik Hak-soon from the Sejong Institute, who says this transition of power has been carefully choreographed.

HAK-SOON: The official announcement of the obituary was made two days after actual death of Kim Jong-il. What happened in those two days? During those two past days, the key power-holders in North Korea has agreed to support Kim Jong-un as the new leader of North Korea.


LIM: And there are likely other factors at play to, like ensuring the right reaction from the people, namely that these displays of mass mourning, which continued for a second day. That's the view of Jerome Sauvage, the United Nations coordinator in North Korea, on the line from Pyongyang.

JEROME SAUVAGE: And that explains the announcement on a Monday, so that everyone would be in their respective work units. This way there's a better ability to control the message and control the reaction, and make sure that people are able to take action within the confines of their work units.

LIM: Such outward exhibitions of grief lie in stark contrast to the reactions of one man who today gave his first Western media interview, about his family's ties with the late North Korean leader. Song Il Ki was for a while, effectively, Kim Jong-il's brother-in-law, though he never met the late leader.

Kim fell in love with his sister, Song Hye-rim, then a famous actress who was already married. She became pregnant with Kim's first son Kim Jon-nam. But she fell out of favor with Kim, who took on other wives. Song Hye-rim ended up living in Moscow, where she became very depressed.

SONG IL KI: (Through Translator) At first, he was pretty good and provided money for living expenses and bought her a Mercedes-Benz. But later, he stopped sending money. You can't say he was fully responsible for her illness. But when a husband cheats on his wife it's always stressful.

LIM: Song Il Ki visited his sister in Moscow, but even there they could never talk openly, since she was so carefully monitored. She died in 2002. There was another family tragedy, too: A nephew of his who defected to the South and was assassinated by a North Korean hit man. Song Il Ki doesn't mince with words when asked how he feels about Kim Jong-il.

KI: (Through Translator) Kim Jong-il is not a human being. His father was a dictator and killed so many people. Then he was another dictator and now he wants to extend his dictatorship.

LIM: But Song's been numbed by his family ordeals and he has no reaction to Kim's death.

KI: (Through Translator) I don't feel anything. I no longer feel sorrow or pleasure. I don't have emotions like that. I feel numb.

LIM: But Kim Jong-il's era is now clearly over and analysts in the South are now looking ahead. John Delury from Yonsei University, says power is likely to be vested in a new leadership group with Kim Jong-un as its public face.

PROFESSOR JOHN DELURY: I've attended many of these conferences on contingency scenarios for North Korea. It always hinges on the sudden death of Kim Jong-il. I don't think we're going to see North Korea collapse. I think we're going to see a new constellation of leaders, and going to have to deal with that reality, and hope we can do better dealing with that reality than we did dealing with the Kim Jong-il era.

LIM: The hard questions lie ahead; how Kim Jong-un and those who surround him will deal with the shifting morass of alliances, and especially the military. For now, the first test is navigating his father's funeral, at the same time as building up his own personality cult. For the man described today as a lighthouse of hope for the nation, that process is clearly underway.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Seoul.

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