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Kim's heir apparent increasingly visible in N. Korea: sources

All Headlines 16:23 May 11, 2009

SEOUL, May 11 (Yonhap) -- The third and youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has been increasingly visible on official occasions and masterminded the country's major publicity stunts, such as a recent fireworks extravaganza, in an apparent bid to burnish his image as a successor, sources said Monday.

Kim Jong-un, who is believed to have been tapped in January as the isolated state's next leader, has been seen making efforts to elevate his reputation by organizing the April 15 fireworks show and initiating an economic reconstruction drive, called the "150-day campaign," the sources privy to North Korean internal affairs said on condition of anonymity.

Kim Jong-il was designated as successor by his father and the country's founder Kim Il-sung in 1974, when he was 32. After his father's death in 1994, Kim took over the helm in the first-ever hereditary power transfer in a communist state.

Jong-un, believed to be either 25 or 26 years old, has never appeared in North Korean media reports. He was born to Kim's third wife and actress, Ko Yong-hi, who died of cancer in 2004. He has an older brother, Jong-chol, and a stepbrother and the leader's eldest son, Jong-nam.

Despite his absence in the state media, Jong-un accompanies his father on his all public visits and is stepping up "revolutionary activities to assist and support the supreme leader," one of the sources said.

Trying to emulate his father, Jong-un initiated the 150-day campaign, a nationwide movement to rebuild the country's sickly economy by maximizing its labor force during the period, the sources said. The labor campaign, which started to appear in North Korean media reports this month, is a copy of the "70-day campaign" his father launched to rev up production amid a global oil price crisis in 1974, they said.

Jong-un was also behind the unusually massive fireworks show the country held to mark the 97th birthday of Kim Il-sung and celebrate its April 5 rocket launch, they said.

Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korea expert with the non-governmental Sejong Institute, said Jong-un, with no major post yet with the Workers' Party, appears to be attempting impressive feats ahead of his official nomination. He has little power base, unlike his father who had built his name even before his designation by holding important party posts and purging factional members.

"Kim Jong-il played a role in uniting the party around his father by discovering factional activities and purging pertinent officials," Cheong said. "But in the case of Jong-un, he is believed to be holding no important post yet and has yet to have any tangible public feats that his father presented when he was named as successor."

Sources earlier said that Jong-un has been appointed to a low-level post called "instructor" at the National Defense Commission, the highest military decision-making body. The instructor post, however, is too low to be seen as a sign of his succession, Cheong said.

hkim@yna.co.kr
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