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Kim Jong-Il dead: North Korean leader's body lies in repose

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North Korean state media have given clear indications that Kim Jong Un will succeed his father.

South Koreans watch broadcast images of Kim Jong-Il's body lying in repose. (Photo: Associated Press)

Since Kim's death they have stepped up their lavish praise of the son, indicating an effort to strengthen a cult of personality around him similar to that of his father and — much more strongly — of Kim Il Sung.

The Korean Central News Agency on Tuesday described Kim Jong Un as "a great person born of heaven," a propaganda term previously used only for his father and grandfather. The Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the ruling Workers' Party, added in an editorial that Kim Jong Un is "the spiritual pillar and the lighthouse of hope" for the military and the people.

It described the twenty-something Kim as "born of Mount Paektu," one of Korea's most cherished sites and Kim Jong Il's official birthplace. On Monday, the North said in a dispatch that the people and the military "have pledged to uphold the leadership of comrade Kim Jong Un" and called him a "great successor" of the country's revolutionary philosophy of juche, or self reliance.

Young Koreans, the North reported, "are burning with the faith and will to remain loyal to Kim Jong Un."

"Under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, we youths will creditably take over the baton of revolution and successfully accomplish the revolutionary cause of juche pioneered by President Kim Il Sung and led to victory by Kim Jong Il," Kan Ok Ryon, 26, was quoted by the Korean Central News Agency as saying.

But concerns remain over whether the transition will be a smooth one.

Soon after the death was announced Monday, President Barack Obama agreed by phone with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to closely monitor developments. Japan's government also said it was being vigilant for any "unexpected developments."

South Korea's military was put on high alert, and experts warned that the next few days could be a crucial turning point for the North, which though impoverished by economic mismanagement and repeated famine, has a relatively well-supported, 1.2 million-strong armed forces.

South Korea offered condolences to the North Korean people, but the government said no official delegation will be traveling from Seoul to Pyongyang to pay their respects.

Kim's death could set back efforts by the United States and others to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions. Concerns are also high that Kim Jong Un — being young and largely untested — may feel he needs to prove himself by precipitating a crisis or displaying his swagger on the international stage.

Kim Jong Il was in power for 17 years after the death of his father, and was groomed for power years before that. Kim Jong Un only emerged as the likely heir over the past year.

North Korea conducted at least one short-range missile test Monday, South Korean officials said. But they saw it as a routine drill.

"The sudden death of Kim Jong Il has plunged the isolated state of North Korea into a period of major uncertainty. There are real concerns that heir-apparent Kim Jong Un has not had sufficient time to form the necessary alliances in the country to consolidate his future as leader of the country," said Sarah McDowall, a senior analyst with U.S.-based consultants IHS.

Some analysts, however, said Kim's death was unlikely to plunge the country into chaos because it already was preparing for a transition. Kim Jong Il indicated a year ago that Kim Jong Un would be his successor, putting him in high-ranking posts.

South Korea's president urged his people to remain calm while his Cabinet and the Parliament convened emergency meetings Tuesday. Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik said his government is refraining from moves that may exasperate North Korea.

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