Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Power shift underway in North Korea?

The brother-in-law of North Korea's Kim Jong-Il has become even more powerful since Kim fell sick, officials and analysts say, with some believing he is effectively standing in for the supreme leader. (Tokyo Broadcasting System, citing a US intelligence source, said the 66-year-old suffered a second stroke in late October.)

The influence of Jang Song-Taek has become greater than ever since Kim was reportedly hit by a stroke, Cheong Seong-Chang, of South Korea's private Sejong Institute think-tank, said Tuesday. "Jang is apparently in charge of receiving orders from Kim and channeling them (to state agencies)," he told AFP.

A senior South Korean intelligence official went further, saying Jang was acting like a stand-in in day-to-day state affairs. The intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Jang, 62, is now in full charge of the security and police agencies including the dreaded secret police. "That's why people say Jang is in effect number two in terms of real power in the North. For Chairman Kim, the most trustworthy person at a time of ill health is Jang, the husband of his sister," the official said.

Analysts said Jang's new powers do not necessarily mean he is in line to take over. Cheong of the Sejong Institute did not believe he is acting as a stand-in and said the extra powers could easily be taken away depending on the state of Kim's health or on a whim. "It's better to say Chairman Kim is ruling through Jang than Jang is ruling the North," former unification minister Chung Se-Hyun said.


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