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Kim Jong-il’s son rising as cultlike national figure

Kim Jong-un prepares to follow father

- Associated Press - Monday, October 10, 2011

PYONGYANG, North Korea — The Illustrious General has had a busy year.

Since making his international debut a year ago Monday, Kim Jong-un has been serving as military strategist, political statesman and trusted deputy to his father, leader Kim Jong-il.

The newly minted four-star general, believed to be in his late 20s, is widely credited at home with orchestrating a deadly artillery attack on a front-line South Korean island that nearly brought the foes back to the brink of war.

He appears regularly with his father at marquee events and accompanies him on inspection trips to farms and factories — visits now commemorated with plaques bearing his name.

Officials even say Kim Jong-un, who was on hand for a recent state visit by Laos' president, has been entrusted with full leadership of the country while his father has made extended trips to China and Russia in the last year.

At least that's the official portrait emerging of the young man who in just one year has cemented his status as North Korea's next leader.

The inner workings of North Korea's political leadership and myth-making have never been easy for the outside world to fathom or confirm. Information is tightly controlled, both to the people at home and to the wider world. Foreigners are allowed in only on a limited and restricted basis.

Still, North Korea has made substantial progress in building up the cult of personality surrounding Kim Jong-un, and a biography and other top government and political posts can be expected in the coming months, says Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor at Korea University in South Korea.

"He is now performing the role of successor," Mr. Yoo said Monday. "He has virtually cemented his status as the next leader."

Kim Jong-un was introduced to the world a year ago at a grand military parade marking the 65th anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party, saluting troops by his father's side in an appearance captured live by international media.

His emergence settled the question of which of Kim Jong-il's three known sons would succeed him as the third-generation leader in a family dynasty that has ruled since North Korea's postwar inception in 1948.

The succession became a pressing issue in 2008, when Kim Jong-il dropped out of public sight for a couple of months. U.S. and South Korean officials say he suffered a stroke; the North Korean people say their leader was suffering from exhaustion.

Still, Kim Jong-un remains an enigma, even to those at home.

North Koreans are told that he graduated from Kim Il-sung Military University, speaks several languages, including English and is a whiz with technology.

However, his exact date of birth, his marital status and even the name of his mother — said to be Kim Jong-il's late second wife, Ko Yong-hui — never have been made public, even to the North Korean people.

North Koreans are expecting to learn more about him next year when the nation celebrates one of its biggest historical milestones: the 100th anniversary on April 15 of the birth of the late family patriarch, Kim Il-sung.

Next year promises to be momentous for a government that loves round figures: Kim Il-sung would have turned 100, Kim Jong-il will be 70, and some speculate that Kim Jong-un may celebrate his 30th birthday in what would be a perfect storm of succession mathematics.

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