Powerful North Korean politician dies: State media

Jo Myong-Rok had been near the centre of power in North Korea for 3 decades.

Pyongyang: Jo Myong-Rok, one of North Korea`s most powerful leaders, has died aged 82, state media reported on Saturday.

Jo, who had been near the centre of power in the reclusive Communist state for three decades, died of "an inveterate heart disease" at 10:30 am (0700 IST), the official KCNA news agency said.

He was first vice-chairman of the militaristic state`s all-powerful National Defence Commission and had led an official delegation to the United States in 2000.

Jo, who was born into a poor peasant`s family in North Hamgyong Province, which borders China, KCNA said.

It described him as "a revolutionary comrade loyal to leader Kim Jong-Il and a prominent activist of the (Workers` Party), the state and the Army of the DPRK (North Korea) who devoted his whole life to the sacred struggle for the freedom and independence of the country and the victory of the cause of socialism."

Jo was elected to North Korea`s supreme body, the presidium of the politburo, in September, when the Workers` Party held its highest-level gathering for 30 years to elect a new leadership.

The meeting also appointed leader Kim`s youngest son Kim Jong-Un as one of two vice-chairmen of the country`s powerful central military commission and a member of its core institution the central committee.

The Kim dynasty has ruled with an iron fist since the country was founded in 1948.

The regime is struggling to revive the crumbling economy amid persistent severe food shortages, and is grappling with international sanctions imposed to curb its nuclear and missile programmes.

Jo was a veteran of the 1950-53 Korean War and had held the rank of Vice Marshal of the Korean People`s Army (KPA), since 1995, KCNA said.

"In the period of the hard-fought Fatherland Liberation War against the US imperialists` armed invasion he bravely fought as a pilot of the KPA for the victory in the war," the agency reported.

An obituary issued on Saturday by Pyongyang described Jo`s death as "a great loss to the party, the Army and people of the DPRK waging a dynamic struggle to win the victory of the cause of building a thriving socialist nation and bring earlier the independent reunification of the country," according to KCNA.

He is to be given a state funeral on November 10, the report said, and will lie in state at the Central Hall of Workers beforehand.