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N. Korea succession likely topic of upcoming party meetings

TOKYO – North Korean leader Kim Jong Il will probably use an upcoming meeting of party elites to introduce his heir apparent, initiating the Stalinist dictatorship’s second hereditary power transfer, U.S. and South Korean experts and officials say.

Kim’s youngest son, Kim Jong Un, is widely expected to be given at least one high-level leadership position – the first step to claiming absolute power on par with his father’s.

Experts differ on whether the younger Kim’s rise will be publicly heralded. But in any case, moves made in coming days could lend the first real insight into Kim Jong Il’s strategy for maintaining his family’s power as his country deals with a frail economy, severe food shortages and international pressure to denuclearize.

North Korea has not announced dates for the party delegates meeting in Pyongyang, a rare forum reserved for landmark decision-making.

Observers say that the elder Kim, who suffered a stroke in 2008, is rushing the power transfer because of health problems. Kim Jong Un is thought to be in his mid- or late 20s.

North Korea held similar delegates conferences in 1958 and 1966. Such meetings provide latitude for juggling the hierarchy, revising the constitution and adjusting the balance of power between the military and Workers’ Party. Many North Korea analysts in Seoul and Washington predict that Kim Jong Il will attempt either to rebuild power in the Workers’ Party, which has lost influence to the military and seen its membership decline, or dilute power in the military.


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