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Kim Jong-il's young 'un set to be named heir

The Guardian - September 28, 2010

Petteri Tuohinen, Pyongyang The fruit crop is expected to be excellent. Farmers smile as they toil in the fields, and people wave flags on their way to work. Tractors are bringing in another good harvest.

The footage on North Korean television screens offers images of the good life, apparently unaltered for years. But change is coming to this isolated and bizarre dictatorship, as the world's first communist dynasty prepares to transfer power to its third generation.

Like everything in this country, the move is shrouded in mystery. But the people are already being groomed for a transition, supporting the widespread belief that the leader, Kim Jong-il, will use today's Workers Party assembly to signal he has chosen his youngest son to succeed him.

One Pyongyang student says there is already a song dedicated to the heir apparent. "We were told at university that Kim Jong-un is very intelligent, that he has a military background, and that he is very young," says the young woman.

Many others seem to know his name, even though there is a reluctance to discuss the matter at least with foreigners.

His father's gradual rise was equally well veiled, sealed only at the party's 1980 gathering: its last until this year. This meeting could take anywhere between three days and almost three weeks, to judge from previous events.

Seoul-based Yonhap news agency has also reported that the North may be preparing a record military parade, citing South Korean government sources. As many as 10,000 soldiers may march alongside missiles and armoured vehicles to mark the party's assembly or its 65th anniversary next month.

Kim Jong-un's rise is unlike that of his 68-year-old father's in one crucial regard: time is not on his side. The elder Kim had years of experience dealing with the party and the powerful military before his father's death in 1994. Yet he appears to have neglected his own succession plans until reportedly suffering a stroke two years ago.

His apparent frailty is, of course, a strictly taboo topic in Pyongyang. "Our leader is in good shape and is energetic," said a guide.

The family's personality cult is apparent everywhere. The viewing conditions at the mausoleum of the country's founder, Kim Il-sung, are so strict that shoes are mechanically cleaned and blowers remove dust from visitors' clothes before they can enter and view his embalmed body.

Everybody over 13 wears a Kim Il-sung lapel pin and secondary school pupils spend a sixth of their lessons studying the thoughts of their leaders.

They are taught to believe that their country stands out among nations, and that life is better there than anywhere else. "We envy nothing in the world," children sing in a propaganda film.

Yet the country is an international pariah that spends vast sums on its military, even though the people have suffered from hunger and poverty for decades.

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