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Kim Jong Il may have suffered stroke, intelligence official says
Published: Tuesday September 9, 2008

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il failed to appear Tuesday at a massive parade marking the communist country's 60th anniversary and a US intelligence official said he may have suffered a stroke.

The 66-year-old, who is known to suffer from diabetes and heart problems, was absent from the parade of reserve military forces, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency, which monitored North Korean television.

"It does appear that Kim Jong-Il has had a health setback, possibly a stroke," said the official in Washington on condition of anonymity.

The official said it appeared to have happened in "the last couple of weeks" but there were no outward signs of a struggle to succeed him.

US intelligence was "pretty confident" of its health assessment, the official said, saying a stroke "possibly is what it looks like now."

Seoul's Chosun Ilbo newspaper said the South Korean embassy in Beijing had received an intelligence report that Kim collapsed on August 22.

The paper, quoting an embassy source, said the intelligence came from Chinese sources.

Chosun reported last Saturday that five Chinese doctors had been in North Korea for more than a week, possibly to treat Kim.

Kim's health has been the subject of intense speculation since he took over from his father, who died in 1994, in the communist world's only dynastic succession. He has not publicly nominated any successor.

Japan's Kyodo news agency said his absence from a major military parade was the first he has missed since he became head of the armed forces in 1991. He also did not appear at anniversary events Monday.

The parade was lower-key than expected, with less military hardware. Kyodo said military equipment such as anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery were on display, but not tanks and missiles.

The regular army, navy and air force did not take part.

Instead, the North's titular number two Kim Yong-Nam inspected a parade of Worker and Peasant Red Guards, a reserve force.

Yonhap said he was flanked by Jo Myong-Rok, vice chairman of the National Defence Commission, which is chaired by Kim Jong-Il.

An official at South Korea's unification ministry, which handles cross-border relations, told AFP it would be unusual if Kim had failed to appear for such an important event.

Kyodo said the parade of reserves and Pyongyang residents filled Kim Il-Sung Square, which can hold about 100,000 people.

North Korean TV aired footage of the event at 9:00 pm (1200 GMT) even though the parade was staged during the day, according to a unification ministry official.

The state news agency had carried no report on it by late evening.

State media in North Korea, virtually the last outpost of Cold War-era communism, heaped praise on Kim despite acute food shortages, a foundering economy and a deadlocked aid-for-disarmament nuclear deal.

"There is no limit to the ideological and mental power of the military and the people united firmly under their leader," said Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the ruling party.

"We should continue to make utmost efforts to strengthen the military power of our republic," the editorial said, adding that it became a peerless military power with "a strong war deterrent" due to Kim's leadership.

The "war deterrent" is a reference to the nuclear programme which the North promised to shut down after an atomic weapons test in 2006.

But it has halted work to disable its plutonium-producing plants, and says it will start repairing them, following a deadlock in a six-nation disarmament deal.

The North relies on foreign aid to feed millions.

Its economy shrank 2.3 percent in 2007 from a year earlier, its second straight year of contraction as devastating floods hit harvests, the South Korean central bank said in June.

However, the austere capital Pyongyang had been refurbished for the anniversary and decorated with flowers and flags. Slogans extol the virtues of Kim and of his father and founding president Kim Il-Sung.

"Victory and glory for 60 years," read some.

Nuclear disarmament work has halted because of a dispute between the North and its negotiating partners about ways to verify the nuclear inventory it handed over in June.

Washington has refused to remove the North from a terrorism blacklist until agreement on verification is reached.