REPORTING FROM SEOUL -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the mercurial strongman extolled at home as the “Dear Leader” and reviled abroad as a tyrant, has died at 69, North Korean media reported Monday.
Kim’s death was announced by state television from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. No cause of death was reported, but Kim was believed to have suffered in recent years from diabetes and heart disease.
The diminutive leader was believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008 but nonetheless appeared in numerous photos released by state media as he toured state facilities and in recent months embarked on rare trips outside North Korea -– to China and Russia.
In September 2010, Kim announced that his foreign-educated third son, Kim Jong Eun, would succeed him as the regime’s third leader since its emergence more than a half century ago.
Kim, who came to power in 1994 upon the death of his father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, led one of the world’s most enduring dictatorships, a repressive regime that has long defied predictions of its demise. Against the odds, it survived into the 21st century while its people went hungry and its allies drifted away to pursue globalization and reform.
Kim remained to the end an unrepentant communist, refusing to liberalize North Korea’s economy even as his people became some of the world’s poorest, with millions dying of starvation and tens of thousands imprisoned on charges of political crimes. While rival South Korea became one of the world’s wealthiest nations, many in the North have earned less than a dollar a month.
Though his bouffant hairdo, oversize glasses and elevator shoes made him widely parodied, Kim also had a reputation as a canny survivor and negotiator. He weathered a storm of international condemnation to acquire and develop nuclear devices, one of which his country tested in 2006.
-- Barbara Demick and John M. Glionna
Photo: Kim Jong Il. Credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP Photo