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(News Focus) Questions linger on N. Korean leader Kim Jong-un's power

All Headlines 14:21 June 29, 2012

By Kim Kwang-tae

SEOUL, June 29 (Yonhap) -- Six months after rising to power, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appears to be increasingly firmly in control of the Pyongyang regime, watchers said Friday, though details of the isolated state's power structure still remain unknown to the outside world.

Kim has assumed all top posts in recent months as he formally wrapped up the power transfer following the December death of his father, long-time leader Kim Jong-il.

Kim, believed to be in his late 20s, holds the titles of first secretary of the Workers' Party and first chairman of the National Defense Commission, the two newly-created top posts in the communist country.

His ascension to power was much faster than that of his father, who won all top posts in the party and government in 1997, three years after the demise of Kim Il-sung, the country's founder and the current leader's grandfather.

The development indicated there was no serious division or friction in the North's inner circle over Kim's succession to power.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, said the young Kim's regime appears to have stabilized during the last six months.

Kim has made a spate of inspection trips to military units in an apparent attempt to bolster his support from the military, which served as a key backbone of his father's rule.

North Korea's military and other top officials have repeatedly pledged loyalty to their new leader as the country's state propaganda media have lauded him as "the outstanding leader" and "another great sun."

In an apparent move to evoke images of his grandfather whom some old North Koreans still respect, Kim often linked his arms with his people and showed affection toward them during his inspection trips.

Still, experts raised questions on whether the young untested leader can exercise real power, citing his lack of the charisma both his father and grandfather possessed.

Yoo Ho-yeol, a North Korea expert and professor at Korea University, said he does not believe Kim fully controls the 1.2 million-strong military and the Workers' Party, citing Kim's lack of vision and leadership ability.

Kim Jong-un's regime appears to have stabilized, but "internally, the situation seems fluid and uncertain," Yoo said, without elaborating.

There is speculation Kim Jong-un may serve as a figurehead for a North run by a collective leadership of key party and military officials.

Some experts also raised the possibility that Jang Song-thaek and his wife, Kim Kyong-hui, the late leader's younger sister, wield a strong influence in state affairs.

Jang, a four-star general and brother-in-law of late leader Kim Jong-il, has long been considered a key official in helping the younger Kim consolidate power. Jang serves as vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission, once headed by the late Kim.

Experts said Kim's leadership ability remains to be seen as he has yet to announce his own policies.

North Korea has ruled out any policy changes and vowed to uphold the late Kim's policies to help achieve a thriving socialist country under the leadership of the younger Kim.

Yoo said the past six months were a quick fix following the demise of Kim Jong-il, but Kim Jong-un could face challenges in coming years as he has to coordinate the country's policies.


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