Seoul: Belying his caricature image as an
eccentric playboy, Kim Jong-Il was a politically skilled and ruthless ruler who kept North Korea's brutal regime in place despite famine and economic decline.
In Pics: Enigmatic Kim Jong Il Dies
Kim, who died on Saturday of a heart attack aged 69,
perpetuated his power using propaganda, prison camps, an
all-pervading personality cult inherited from his father and a
He defied widespread predictions of regime collapse as
the communist state's command economy wilted under its own
contradictions and Soviet aid dried up in the early 1990s.
In the mid- to late-1990s Kim presided over a famine that
by some estimates killed one million -- but he still found
resources to continue a nuclear weapons programme culminating
in tests in October 2006 and May 2009.
Severe food shortages continue. The UN children's fund
estimates one-third of children are stunted by malnutrition.
The regime faces increasing pressure from sanctions over
its nuclear and missile programmes and the parlous state of
the economy. But the late leader's state of health accelerated
a perilous succession.
Kim suffered a stroke in August 2008. Some reports say he
also suffered from kidney failure which required dialysis,
diabetes and high blood pressure.
More worryingly, analysts said his decision-making had
become increasingly erratic -- because of the stroke's
after-effects, or because he was trying to bolster the
credentials of his youngest son Jong-Un as eventual successor.
They cited a deadly torpedo attack in March 2010 on a
South Korean warship. The sinking, which Seoul and Washington
blamed on Pyongyang, triggered tougher US sanctions as well as
reprisals from Seoul.
Then in November 2010, the North bombarded the flashpoint border island of Yeonpyeong, killing two South Korean Marines and two civilians. It was the first attack on a civilian area since the 1950-53 Korean war.
Both the United States and South Korea have warned of
rising dangers from an unpredictable Pyongyang as Kim Jong-Un
seeks to cement his credibility with the all-powerful
Kim Jong-Il inherited power from his father Kim Il-Sung,
the 100th anniversary of whose birth comes next year in
another flashpoint date that has US and South Korean analysts
watching on nervously.
Kim Jong-Il presented his own son Jong-Un as the heir
apparent in September 2010, extending the communist world's
According to hagiographic official accounts, Kim Jong-Il
was born on February 16, 1942 at Mount Paekdu, a sacred site
First Published: Monday, December 19, 2011, 14:13