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Kim Jong Il, the second-generation North Korean dictator who defied global condemnation to build nuclear weapons while his people starved, has died, Yonhap News reported. He was 70.
The news came in a radio broadcast at noon local time, Yonhap reported, citing North Korea’s official media. Kim probably had a stroke in August 2008 and may have also contracted pancreatic cancer, according to South Korean news reports.
The son of Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founder, Kim was a chain-smoking recluse who ruled for 17 years after coming to power in July 1994 and resisted opening up to the outside world in order to protect his regime. The potential succession of his little-known third son, Kim Jong Un, threatens to trigger a dangerous period for the Korean peninsula, where 1.7 million troops from the two Koreas and the U.S. square off every day.
“Kim Jong Il inherited a genius for playing the weak hand and by keeping the major powers nervous, continuing his father’s tradition of turning Korea’s history of subservience on its head,” said Michael Breen, the Seoul-based author of “Kim Jong Il: North Korea’s Dear Leader,” a biography. “We have entered an uncertain moment with North Korea.”
Lampooned by foreign cartoonists and filmmakers for his weight, his zippered jumpsuits, his aviator sunglasses and his bouffant hairdo, Kim cut a more serious figure in his rare dealings with world leaders outside the Communist bloc.
Words for Albright
“If there’s no confrontation, there’s no significance to weapons,” he told Madeleine Albright, then U.S. secretary of state, in a 2000 meeting in Pyongyang.
Those words took on greater significance in 2009 as Kim defied threats of United Nations sanctions to test a second nuclear device and a ballistic missile, technically capable of striking Alaska.
The following year North Korea lashed out militarily, prompting stern warnings from the U.S. and South Korea. An international investigation blamed Kim’s regime for the March 2010 sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan that killed 46 sailors.
Eight months later North Korea shelled a South Korean island, killing two soldiers, two civilians and setting homes ablaze. The act followed reports by an American scientist that the country had made “stunning” advances to its uranium- enrichment program.