World in anxiety as North Korean strong leader, Kim Jong-il dies at 69.

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Kim Jong il

North Korean strong leader, leader Kim Jong Il is dead, North Korean state TV said early on Monday that  Kim died on Saturday at the age of 69.

He was he son of of Kim Il Song, the founder of the communist nation, Kim Jong Il had been in power since 1994 when his father died of a heart attack at age 82.

The enigmatic leader was a frequent thorn in the flesh of neighboring Western supported South Korea, as well as the United States. There have been reports in recent years about his health, as well as projections for the future of North Korea with speculations that that power will be transitioned to his son, Kim Jong Un.

However,  Kim Jong-il‘s death  has provoked uncertainty, anxiety and calls for a peaceful transition on Monday as diplomats, military strategists and political leaders awaited some signal from North Korea on its nuclear intentions and its handling of the succession.

The response was colored by the secretive nature of the regime in Pyongyang which has groomed Mr. Kim’s youngest son, King Jong-un, as the heir-apparent, but allowed little of substance to be known about him.

From Beijing to London, outsiders peering into the opaque and unpredictable politics of North Korea said they hoped the transition would be achieved without worsening tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Even as state media in Pyongyang referred to Kim Jong-un as “the great successor,” Japan said it hoped Kim Jong-il’s death “does not have an adverse effect on the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula.”

A statement from the Chinese authorities — whose reaction to potential turmoil in North Korea could dominate the regional response — offered “deep condolences” and suggested a degree of alarm in Beijing.

In South Korea, facing North Korea’s vast, nuclear-armed military, the armed forces went on high alert as President Lee Myung-bak called for calm and urged residents to pursue their normal lives, news reports said. President Lee was reported to have spoken to leaders in Washington and Tokyo as the Obama administration sought to assure its regional allies.

A White House statement said: “We remain committed to stability on the Korean peninsula and to the freedom and security of our allies.”

Another key player was Russia. Bloomberg News quoted South Korea’s presidential office as saying President Lee and his Russian counterpart, Dimitri A. Medvedev, agreed to work closely together for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula following the elder Mr. Kim’s death.

In Beijing, China’s Xinhua news agency quoted the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ma Zhaoxu, as saying Beijing was “distressed” to learn of the death. “We express our grief about this and extend our condolences to the people of North Korea.”

Mr. Ma praised Mr. Kim as a “great leader” who made “important contributions” to relations with China. “We are confident that the North Korean people will be able to turn their anguish into strength and unify as one,” Reuters quoted the Chinese official as saying.

“China and North Korea will strive together to continue making positive contributions to consolidating and developing the traditional friendship between our two parties, governments and peoples and to preserving the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and the region.”

The measured Chinese response, offering continued support, was significant because the Pyongyang regime depends on China as an ally in its diplomacy and for help with food and fuel to support its crippled economy. In the months before his death, Mr. Kim traveled to China twice, most recently in August.

His secretive visits to China — which were usually by train and were not announced until he had returned home — were seen by regional specialists as important in securing Beijing’s acceptance of the succession. From China’s perspective, the uneasy relationship with North Korea is both an element in its contest with the United States and its allies in the region and a source of concern over the costs of economic and diplomatic support for the isolated regime in Pyongyang.

Some specialists said they discerned a note of alarm in the Chinese response, suggesting that Beijing, calculating that the elder Mr. Kim would survive for several years, had been taken by surprise. “This has really come out of the blue. It’s not like it had been rumored for a while giving everyone time to properly prepare,” Cai Jian, an expert on Korean affairs at Fudan University in Shanghai, told Reuters.

“China’s biggest worry will be over North Korea’s stability, and China’s aim will be to ensure the country remains stable,” the expert said. “I think security will be stepped up in North Korea, and China is also likely to tighten security along the border.”

Source: Guardian