Kim Jong-il, the leader of North Korea has died according to state-run Yonhap News. Kim was 69 years old and inherited power from his father and the founder of North Korea, Kim Il Sung, in 1994. Describing the man who was called “Dear Leader” as the “dictator who defied global condemnation to build nuclear weapons while his people starved,” Bloomberg News notes that his death portends a “dangerous period for the Korean peninsula.”
A recluse who chain-smoked and reputedly had a taste for “cigars, cognac and gourmet cuisine,” Kim suffered a stroke in 2008 and was also said to have diabetes and heart disease. Video of him on recent trips to China, Russia and other places around the world show him to be “relatively vigorous.” His third son, the twenty-something Kim Jong Un, was named as his successor in 2010.
Kim has long resisted opening up North Korea to the rest of the world. In 2009, Kim — in a characteristically belligerent move — defied United Nations sanctions about testing a nuclear device and ballistic missile that was “technically capable of striking Alaska.” North Korea was blamed for the 2010 sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan in which 46 sailors died and, two months later, for shelling a South Korean island, with two soldiers and two civilians dying in the blaze. The latter attack occurred after a US scientist had said that North Korean had instituted “‘stunning’ advances to its uranium- enrichment program.”
These reports of North Korea strengthening its weapons program and threatening South Korea led to the US suspending food aid in 2008, says the Telegraph. This past summer, the European Commission warned that some 500,000 people face possible starvation; children are already suffering from malnutrition. Aid agencies report that government rations have been cut to barely one-tenth of what is needed, to 200 grams a day. The North Korean government itself has been unwilling to spend its declining currency reserves to feed its 24 million people.
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