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(2nd LD) N. Korean leader recovering: intelligence agency

All Headlines 18:50 September 10, 2008

(ATTN: RECASTS lead; REPHRASES para 5; UPDATES with more details from para 7)
By Shin Hae-in

SEOUL, Sept. 10 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il suffered a stroke but is quickly recovering, South Korea's intelligence agency was quoted as saying by a lawmaker on Wednesday, spurning widespread speculation here that the leader may no longer be able to rule the communist state.

North Korea's state media has not reported Kim's public appearance since Aug. 14, and the leader was absent from a parade on Tuesday commemorating the communist state's 60th founding anniversary, a rare move that escalated rumors he may be seriously ill.

"Kim suffered either a stroke or a cerebral hemorrhage, but is recovering, the intelligence agency said. Pyongyang is not in a state of administrative vacuum," Won Hye-young, the floor leader of South Korea's main opposition Democratic Party, told reporters after attending the closed-door parliamentary session on Wednesday.

"Although Kim is not fit enough for outside activity, he is conscious and able to control affairs," Won added.

Other lawmakers who attended the session, where the chief of Seoul's National Intelligence Service briefed the parliament, backed Won's remarks.

"Kim was planning to attend the founding ceremony in the afternoon, but was unable to make it due to the aftereffects," an unnamed lawmaker quoted an intelligence official as saying.

This year, North Korea made the rare choice of skipping morning celebration activities for its founding ceremony, usually featuring thousands of goose-stepping troops and missile launchers parading through its capital with their high-profile leader hailing them.

The annual September celebration has long been considered a means to virtually monitor the health of the 66-year-old North Korean leader and the son of the country's founding father, Kim Il-sung, who died of a heart attack in 1994.

Seoul has been on maximum alert, trying to verify Kim's condition while maintaining a low-key attitude on the official level.

President Lee Myung-bak convened an unscheduled meeting with his senior secretaries earlier Wednesday, discussing countermeasures to any emergent situation in Pyongyang.

The reports about Kim came as North Korea, which tested a nuclear device in 2006, has recently retreated from a six-nation denuclearization deal by threatening to restart its nuclear reactor.

The deal, struck with South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, promises to remove the North from the U.S. list of terrorism sponsors, but Pyongyang claims Washington has failed to honor its side of the pledge.

Kim has three sons, with the second-eldest, Jong-chol, 26, considered the favorite to succeed his father. Speculation has it that he has a hormonal disorder.


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