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(LEAD) N.K. defector claims he is '99 pct' sure that N. Korean leader died

North Korea 16:28 May 01, 2020

(ATTN: REWRITES headline, lead; UPDATES with Cheong Wa Dae's stance at bottom)

SEOUL, May 1 (Yonhap) -- A North Korea defector elected as a lawmaker in South Korea claimed Friday that he is "99 percent" sure that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un died after surgery amid speculation over his health.

Unconfirmed reports about Kim's ill health have mounted since he has not appeared in public for nearly three weeks. News reports described Kim as being in "grave danger" after surgery or hiding out at a coastal resort to escape the coronavirus pandemic.

Ji Seong-ho, who earned a proportional representation seat of a minor party in the April 15 elections, claimed that he is 99 percent sure of Kim's death and North Korea may make the related announcement this weekend.

"I've wondered how long he could have endured after cardiovascular surgery. I've been informed that Kim died last weekend," Ji told Yonhap News Agency.

"It is not 100 percent certain, but I can say the possibility is 99 percent. North Korea is believed to be grappling with a complicated succession issue," he said.

Ji did not reveal the source of where he got his information. His claim cannot be verified independently.

The lawmaker-elect said that Kim Yo-jong, sister of the North's leader, is likely to succeed him, as many experts speculate.

South Korea's presidential office Cheong Wa Dae reaffirmed that it has not detected any "unusual" signs in North Korea regarding Kim's health.

This file photo, taken on March 12, 2020, shows Ji Seong-ho, a North Korean defector and human rights activist. (Yonhap)


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