South Korea announced Wednesday night that a top North Korean leader had asked for asylum, in what would amount to a spectacular coup for Western intelligence services trying to learn more about one of the most isolated countries in the world.
But North Korea promptly denied that the official had defected, and said he was on board a train returning home. South Korea says he is in its consulate in Beijing.
If confirmed in the coming days, the defection of the official, Hwang Jang Yop, 72, a thin, professorial man who is one of 11 secretaries of the ruling Workers Party, would be a devastating blow to North Korea and a major signal that even the nation’s top elites are running for cover.
Hwang would be by far the most senior North Korean leader ever to seek refuge abroad.
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