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Sunday, July 26, 1998 Published at 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

North Korea elects Kim Jon-Il

Kim Jong Il's position has been rubber-stamped by the election

North Korea's de facto leader, Kim Jong-Il, has been elected to a seat in parliament, according to the country's official news agency.

State media reported a turnout of 100% in the first elections for eight years to the country's highest legislative body, the Supreme Peoples' Assembly.

Kim Jong-Il stood unopposed in constituency number 666 in the capital, Pyongyang.

[ image: Submarine incident did nothing to improve relations]
Submarine incident did nothing to improve relations
Correspondents say the vote is expected to pave the way for Kim Jong-Il's election as North Korean president.

The state has been without a president since the death in 1994 of Kim Jong Il's father, Kim Il Sung, who had ruled over North Korea as its Great Leader for more than 40 years.

At the moment, Kim Jong Il holds only two of the posts held by his father.

In keeping with Confucian traditions, Kim Jong Il could not take power immediately after his death - that would have been unseemly.

Last year, a three-year period of official mourning ended so Kim Jong-Il was able to become head of the Workers' Party.

If Kim Jong Il is elected, North Korea will become the world's first hard-line communist state in which power is transferred from father to son.

[ image: North Korea is thought to be suffering from severe food shortages]
North Korea is thought to be suffering from severe food shortages
The BBC's correspondent says that it is hoped the elections will help to normalise North Korea's relations with the rest of the world.

The South's new President, Kim Dae-Jung, has sought rapprochement with the North with a policy of engagement. So far the North has not reciprocated.

In fact, relations have deteriorated over the past few months.

A North Korean submarine was washed up in South Korea apparently on an infiltration mission, in June.

A few weeks later, the body of a North Korean commando was washed up on a South Korean beach.

North Korea supposedly needs help - the country is short of food.

Aid agencies say anything from tens of thousands to more than three million people may have died during the famine of the past few years.

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