Kim promotes relative to No. 2 post in N. Korea

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Kim promotes relative to No. 2 post in N. Korea


North Korean leader Kim Jong-il sits in the Mansudae assembly hall in Pyongyang yesterday during this year’s second Supreme People’s Assembly meeting. [YONHAP]

North Korea yesterday announced a dramatic reshuffle in its senior government posts as leader Kim Jong-il struggles to get a succession plan in place.

According to the state-run Korean Central News Agency, the Supreme People’s Assembly met in Pyongyang yesterday and named Jang Song-thaek as a vice chief of the National Defense Commission, the most powerful institution in the country. The 65-year-old Jang, also the director of the administration department of the Workers’ Party, is Kim’s brother-in-law and was already considered the second most powerful man in North Korea. Now he has the second most powerful title, along with four other vice chiefs who have been in their positions for years.

Also, Choe Yong-rim, secretary of the North Korean Workers’ Party in Pyongyang, was named the new cabinet premier, replacing Kim Yong-il, the main architect of the country’s disastrous currency redenomination in last November.


Jang Song-thaek, Choe Yong-rim

“It looks like Kim Yong-il was replaced for having been unable to fix the fallout of the currency revamp,” said Cho Bong-hyun, a researcher at the Industrial Bank of Korea’s research center.

Yesterday’s political reshuffle also underscored a growing shift within the cabinet that may be part of Kim Jong-il’s plan to bequeath power to his son Kim Jong-un at a time when the country faces ever-intensifying economic woes and political disputes with its southern neighbor, said Seoul government officials and analysts.

Since the North Korean leader’s health deteriorated after a stroke in 2008, he has relied more on his own relatives, most notably Jang and Kim Kyung-hee - Jang’s wife and Kim Jong-il’s younger sister - to maintain his grip on power, according to Seoul intelligence officials. Kim Kyung-hee was seen accompanying Kim Jong-il several times during visits to military posts and industrial facilities after the stroke. She also earned a senior post at the party’s industrial supervision agency after 2008.

Kim reportedly told Jang to “help Jong-un,” and Jang reportedly promised to support the son as Kim’s successor.

Chung Young-tae, a researcher at the Korea Institute of National Unification said, “Jang is the most powerful wingman.”

The selection of Choe, 81, a longtime political bureaucrat, highlights that Kim is focusing on politics rather than economics, said Koh Yoo-hwan, a North Korea specialist at Dongguk University.

By Lee Young-jong []
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