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Page last updated at 10:08 GMT, Friday, 16 January 2009

Muddle over N Korea's succession

By John Sudworth
BBC News, Seoul

Kim Jong-il waves, undated photo
Speculation continues over who will succeed Kim Jong-il

The opaque world of North Korean politics is once again the subject of intense international media speculation amid fears for Kim Jong-il's health.

Newspapers have published conflicting reports about who the country's leader has chosen as his successor.

According to a Japanese news report, Kim Jong-il wants his eldest son to replace him.

But a South Korean news agency claims that he has named his third son instead.

Kim Jong-il inherited the leadership from his father in 1994, so many observers believe that eventually authority will be passed on once again to his sons.

But the question is, which one?

This week, a Japanese newspaper, citing unnamed US intelligence sources, claimed that it is the eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, who would be expected to take over.

But a South Korean news agency, quoting unnamed intelligence sources, said that instead, the 66-year-old leader has now named his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, as his chosen successor.

Other reports suggest the man being lined up as the real "power behind the throne" is Chang Song-taek - the husband of Kim Jong-il's sister and director of the administrative department of the North Korean Workers Party.

China coverage

This latter suggestion has been widely repeated in newspapers in many countries on Thursday, including China.

The state-run China Daily does not routinely carry unsourced reports on North Korea, but placed this story prominently on the front page.

Whether this can be read as lending weight to the claim is impossible to verify.

North Korean officials deny recent reports about Kim Jong-il's ill health and refuse to engage in any discussion about the succession.

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