Saturday, February 23, 2013

North Korea's secretive 'first family'

North Korea's secretive 'first family'

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il died at the age of 69 in December 2011, and Pyongyang named his son Kim Jong-un as successor. Explore the family tree to find out about the country's enigmatic and powerful first family.

1. Kim Jong Il - Kim Jong-il was one of the world's most secretive leaders. Tales from dissidents and past aides created an image of an irrational, power-hungry man who allowed his people to starve while he enjoyed dancing girls and cognac.

But a different picture was painted by Sung Hae-rim, the sister of one of Kim Jong-il's former partners in her memoir, The Wisteria House.

She describes a devoted father and a sensitive, charismatic individual, although she admits even those closest to him were fearful of him.

North Korean media depicted him as a national hero, whose birth to the country's founder, Kim il-sung, was marked by a double rainbow and a bright star.

He appeared frail in recent public appearances after he reportedly suffered a stroke in August 2008.

2. Kim Kyung Hee - The 64-year-old is Kim Jong-il's sister and the wife of the second most powerful figure in North Korea, Chang Song-taek.

The siblings are reported to be very close. Kim Jong-il has said in the past that "everyone should be as loyal as Kim Kyung-hee", and he demands that his sister be treated with deference, according to defectors' testimony.

She has held a wide range of important Workers' Party positions including being a member of the all-powerful Central Committee.

Her promotion to four-star general makes Kim Kyung-hee the first North Korean woman ever to achieve such status. Her name was listed ahead of Kim Jong-un's, state media reported.

Analysts say Kim Kyung-hee is possibly being positioned to oversee the transfer of office from her brother to her young nephew, and may act as a guardian during his rise to power.

There has been speculation in the past that a power struggle may ensue after Kim Jong-il's death, with some analysts arguing that his sister may try to seize the reins.

3. Chang Song-Taek - Kim Jong-il's brother-in-law was thought to be one of his closest confidants. Last year he was elevated to North Korea's powerful National Defence Commission - the country's highest military body and the heart of power.

High-profile defectors have described him as "the number-two man in North Korea". Commentators say he may have taken on de facto leadership during Kim Jong-il's ill health.

The 64-year-old is considered to be one of the architects of the succession, and Kim Jong-un will need his support to ensure the loyalty of the party and the military.

4. Kim Jong-Nam, 39, is Kim Jong-il's eldest son.

Sung Hae-rang, the sister of Kim Jong-nam's deceased mother Sung Hae-rim, has written in her memoir that Kim Jong-il was extremely fond of Kim Jong-nam and was pained to be away from him. Like his half-brothers, Kim Jong-nam studied at an international school in Switzerland.

His chances of succession appeared to be ruined when, in 2001, Japanese officials caught him trying to sneak into Japan using a false passport. He told officials that he was planning to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

Some analysts argued that he may have been forgiven by his father, as there is precedent for the regime reinstating disgraced figures after a period of atonement. Confucian tradition also favours the oldest son.

But in a rare interview while on a trip to China last year, Kim Jong-nam said he had "no interest" in succeeding his father.

5.Kim Sul-song, 36, is Kim Jong-il's daughter born to his first wife, Kim Young-sook.

Reports say she has worked in the country's propaganda department, with responsibility for literary affairs.

One South Korean report said she had also served as her father's secretary

6. Kim Jong-chul, 29, studied at an international school in Switzerland. He works in the WKP propaganda department.

His mother, Ko Yong-hui, is said to have been the North Korean leader's favourite consort.

However, Kenji Fujimoto, the pseudonym of a Japanese sushi chef who spent 13 years cooking for Kim Jong-il, has written that the leader considered his second son "no good because he is like a little girl".

7. Kim Jong-un, the second son of Kim Jong-il and his late wife Ko Yong-hui, has been anointed "the great successor" by Pyongyang.

Like his older brothers, he is thought to have been educated abroad.

A Japanese sushi chef who worked for Kim Jong-il for 13 years up to 2001 said that he "resembled his father in every way, including his physical frame".

Speculation that he was being groomed to succeed his father had been rife for years.

But Kim Jong-un is an inexperienced, untested young man who has no political legitimacy other than his birth. He is inheriting a nation with nuclear weapons and a raft of difficult problems: almost no real economy, widespread hunger and tense relations with South Korea and the US.

8. Ri Sol-ju was introduced as Kim Jong-un's wife in state media reports about the opening of an amusement park in July 2012.

Reports simply said he attended the event with his wife, "Comrade Ri Sol-ju".

Little more is known about Ri Sol-Ju, although there has been much speculation about her background since pictures first emerged of Kim Jong-un with an unidentified woman. There is a North Korean singer of the same name, but she is not now thought to be the same person.

State media did not mention when the couple got married.

9. Kim Han-sol

The grandson of Kim Jong-il and nephew of leader Kim Jong-un has said he wants to "make things better" for the people of his country.

Kim Han-sol, 17, spoke of his dreams of reunification of the two Koreas in an television interview in Bosnia, where he is studying. Kim Han-sol said he had never met his grandfather or uncle.

He described an isolated childhood spent mostly in Macau and China, after his birth in Pyongyang in 1995. In the future, he said he pictured himself going to university and then "volunteering somewhere".

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