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Kim Jong-Il dies at 69 after 17 years in power in North Korea

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With the peninsula divided between the Soviet-administered north and the U.S.-administered south, Kim Il Sung rose to power as 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 assumed power in 1994 after the death of his father. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

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 as leader, 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.

North Korea, long hampered by sanctions and unable to feed its own people, is desperate for aid. Flooding in the 1990s that destroyed the largely mountainous country's arable land left millions hungry.

Following the famine, the number of North Koreans fleeing the country rose dramatically, with many telling tales of hunger, political persecution and rights abuses that officials in Pyongyang emphatically denied.

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.

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