North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il has died aged 69 of a heart attack, state media announced Monday, plunging the impoverished nuclear-armed nation into uncertainty.
The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the leader “passed away from a great mental and physical strain” at 8:30 am on Saturday (2330 GMT Friday), while on a train for one of his “field guidance” tours.
Following the announcement of the leader’s death, the state TV urged people to follow Kim’s youngest son and heir apparent Kim Jong-Un, who is aged in his late 20s.
“All party members, military men and the public should faithfully follow the leadership of comrade Kim Jong-Un and protect and further strengthen the unified front of the party, military and the public,” said the news agency and a weeping TV announcer.
Kim Jong-Un was described as as his father’s “great successor.”
“Standing in the van of the Korean revolution at present is Kim Jong-Un, great successor to the revolutionary cause of juche and outstanding leader of our party, army and people,” the official news agency said, referring to the official ideology of juche or self-reliance.
“Kim Jong-Un’s leadership provides a sure guarantee for creditably carrying to completion the revolutionary cause of juche through generations, the cause started by Kim Il-Sung and led by Kim Jong-Il to victory.”
North Korea test fires short range missile
North Korea test-fired a short-range missile off its east coast on Monday, the same day it announced the death of leader Kim Jong-Il, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said.
The agency quoted an unnamed government official as saying the missile launch was unrelated to the announcement that Kim had died Saturday of a heart attack.
“North Korea test-fired a short-range missile this morning ... it has been closed monitored by our military authorities,” the official was quoted by Yonhap as saying.
Seoul’s defense ministry declined to confirm the report.
The missile is believed to have a range of about 120 kilometers (72 miles), he said, adding the North was apparently trying to improve the weapon.
North Korea has been testing its new KN-06 missile, a modified version of the KN-01 and KN-02 ground-to-ground missiles, Yonhap said.
The communist country has frequently conducted short-range missile tests in recent years. South Korean officials say they are part of routine exercises but the tests are sometimes timed to coincide with periods of tension.
South Korea on alert, U.S. closely monitoring
South Korea’s military has been put on emergency alert following the report of the North Korean leader’s death, Yonhap news agency said on Monday.
South Korea’s presidential Blue House has called an emergency National Security Council meeting, Reuters reported citing Yonhap.
North and South Korea have remained technically at war since the three-year Korean conflict ended only in an armistice in 1953.
The United States said it was “closely monitoring” reports on North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il’s death and said it was committed to stability on the Korean peninsula and the security of its allies.
“We are closely monitoring reports that Kim Jong-Il is dead,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a carefully worded statement, according to AFP.
“The President has been notified, and we are in close touch with our allies in South Korea and Japan. We remain committed to stability on the Korean peninsula, and to the freedom and security of our allies.”
A State Department official said that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was also briefed on Kim’s death.
U.S. officials were aware that Kim, who ruled ruthlessly, shackling his own people with his personality cult and confining them to famine and poverty, had been ill, and that a transition was under way in Pyongyang.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was among world leaders put on alert early Monday over the death of the North Korean leader.
“The secretary general is aware but of the reports but we don’t have an immediate reaction,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told AFP.
North Korea mourns leader
Kim was believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008 but appeared relatively vigorous in photos and video from recent trips to China and Russia and in numerous trips around the country carefully documented by state media.
The leader, reputed to have had a taste for cigars, cognac and gourmet cuisine, was believed to have had diabetes and heart disease, according to The Associated Press.
The news came as North Korea prepared for a hereditary succession. Kim Jong Il inherited power after his father, revered North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, died in 1994.
The North declared a period of national mourning from Dec. 17 to 29.