Kim Jong Il funeral guests to include Japanese magician

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REPORTING FROM SEOUL — The guest list for North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s funeral is taking shape and already includes a multimillionaire’s widow from South Korea and a Japanese magician known as Princess Tenko.

But so far there have been some notable nonmentions, including two of the late dictator's relatives, who have yet to surface since Kim, one of the world’s most reviled leaders, died last week of a heart attack at age 69.

Of particular interest was Kim Jong-nam, Kim's eldest son, who has lived in partial exile after falling out of favor with his father for being caught with a fake passport trying to gain entrance to Tokyo Disneyland.

On Friday, the North Korean government announced that it will accept all condolence delegations from South Korea, reversing an announcement made earlier this week that it would not accept foreign delegations.

Pyongyang has reportedly taken steps to accommodate the visitors over the land border or by air, the North Korean website Uriminzokkiri said. "The convenience and safety of South Korean condolence delegations will be fully guaranteed," the website said.

The move came days after South Korea decided to allow only a select group of people to travel to the North.

South Korea will send at least two delegations -– led by Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun and former first lady Lee Hee-ho .

Seoul officials said they decided to send the delegates because North Korea sent separate condolence delegations to Seoul after the deaths of President Kim Dae-jung, Lee's late husband, and Chung Mong-hun, Hyun's late husband and former Hyundai Group chairman.

Earlier this week, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak issued condolences for North Korean citizens without a specific mention of the late strongman, who for years has pointed short-range missiles at South Korea.

On Friday, North Korea’s state-run media accused the south of not sending an official delegation and banning its people from visiting North Korea.

A poll in South Korea taken this week showed that a majority of South Koreans -– 65% -- believe Seoul officials should express condolences to the North Korean government over Kim’s death.

That was a change of pace from 1994, after the death of Kim Il Sung, the North Korean founder and father of Kim Jong Il, when most people here were against marking the death in any way.

Lee has insisted that he is not hostile toward the North, which is now undergoing a regime change as Kim Jong Il’s youngest son, Kim Jong Un, assumes control of the government.

South Korean lawmakers are also deciding on whether to send a parliamentary delegation to Pyongyang for the funeral.

One thing that the spectacle will not have is foreign journalists, who are reportedly banned from covering the event, set for Wednesday in Pyongyang. The Associated Press is one of the few Western media outlets with an office in the isolated regime.

Japanese magician Mariko Itakura, whose stage name is Princess Tenko, said she has been asked by Kim’s family to attend the funeral. The late dictator was an avid fan of the 51-year-old performer and had collected videos of all her shows.

She also performed magic shows twice in North Korea, in 1998 and 2000.

For her escape from water in the 1998 show, Kim reportedly ordered that a 2-ton tank be filled with Evian mineral water, worried that North Korean water might damage her skin, according to the South Korean press.

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-- John M. Glionna

Photo: Princess Tenko in 1996.

 
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