The North Korean news broadcasters confirmed today that leader Kim Jong Il died Saturday of a heart attack while on a train trip through the country. His youngest son, Kim Jong Un, has been named successor. Kim Jong Un is an unknown factor in the future of the North Korean regime, which many analysts suspect could collapse as a result of his father’s death. South Korea placed all troops and government workers on emergency alert upon rumors of Kim Jong Il’s death, but reports no unusual North Korean troop movements at this time. The White House press secretary announced that the United States is in close contact with South Korea and Japan and is “committed to stability on the Korean peninsula as well as to its allies.”
Not surprisingly, this morning Asian stocks and U.S. index futures both plummeted. South Korean shares fell as much as five percent while the dollar gained slightly. However, the European and U.S. markets appear to be making a recovery as the day continues, with indexes up 0.8 percent in Germany and one percent in France, while the Dow rose 0.4 percent this morning and the Nasdaq composite index rose 0.6 percent. Markets around the world are waiting on the results of a European leaders’ conference call intended to iron out the details of an agreement designed to alleviate the eurozone’s ongoing financial crisis. Thus far, the results of that call seem to be of far more significance to the U.S. and European markets than Kim Jong Il’s death.
Kim Jong Il was 69 at the time of his death. He assumed power over the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) in 1997 and became “supreme leader” of the country about three years after his father, Kim Il Sung, died. Kim Il Sung’s embalmed body is on display in Pyonyang, and he is still considered North Korea’s president. Kim Jong Il worked with former president Bill Clinton to preserve his nuclear program and governed over his largely destitute country during a famine that may have killed as many as 2 million North Koreans. He also reported sold nuclear weapons and technology to Iran and Syria. With his death, the Chinese government is rumored to favor a collective ruling group instead of Kim Jong Un, which could undercut the heir’s ability to effectively govern the country.
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