REPORTING FROM WASHINGTON -- U.S. officials were closely monitoring North Korea for signs of instability or unusual military moves Monday after the death of longtime leader Kim Jong Il, concerned that his passing may set off a succession struggle and set back efforts to persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. had not detected any unusual North Korean military moves. He said the Pentagon had not changed alert levels for the nearly 30,000 American troop stationed in South Korea.
"At this point, we have not seen any change in North Korean behavior," he told reporters at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. He did not say what indicators were being watched, except that "clearly some of them would be troop movements" and none had been detected.
North Korea conducted tests of nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009 and revealed a uranium enrichment program in 2010. Satellite imagery from last month revealed that construction of a new light-water nuclear reactor at Yongbyon was ongoing. North Korea is developing short-range, intermediate-range, and intercontinental ballistic missiles, and maintains a small number of cruise missiles.
REPORTING FROM SEOUL -– They are a group with much to lose in the aftermath of the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il: defectors who have fled the secretive regime and have little access to information about family members back home.
On Monday, several former North Koreans now living in Seoul talked about their feelings concerning the death of a man many called a dreaded tyrant.
"I didn't get chance to call my hometown yet because it costs a lot of money. I am not so worried about my relatives. If they were elites, I would be extra-concerned, but my folks are common people," said Kang Cheol-ryong, a 28-year-old defector who's now attending a university in Seoul. "But I know that dangers lurk. Until the mourning period ends, they should not drink, sing, have fun, play or laugh. So they should be careful."
Kang, who is president of his college's Students for Peace and Unification Assn., said he fears for his countrymen as Kim Jong Il's youngest son, Kim Jong Un, is set to assume control of the Pyongyang regime.
"I am worried that for now citizens will be in turmoil. Kim Jong Un doesn't have a firm political ground in the elite circle. So I am worried about the Chinese reaction, and also the power struggle within the party in North Korea. It also concerns me that the South Korean government does not seem to be ready for the power shift in Pyongyang and their reactions are shaky."
South Korean officials were under fire Monday for their apparent failure to assemble credible intelligence on Kim Jong Il's death, which reportedly came Saturday morning as the strongman rode aboard a train in the north. South Korean intelligence apparently had no information about the death until North Korea made an announcement.
Other defectors said that Kim's death brings a chance for change.
"I've been mocking Kim Jong Il and have been making satire pieces to help people open up their eyes," said Song Byeok, a 42-year-old defector artist whose paintings include an image of Kim Jong Il's head atop the body of actress Marilyn Monroe.
" ... I certainly hope to reach out to the North Korean citizens, especially now that the evil has passed away. It really shows that a mighty dictator, who appeared as if he would live forever, can't avoid death, just like other powerful dictators like Stalin and Mao," he said.
Song said he felt sorry for North Koreans.
"The citizens in Pyongyang will have to pretend to be mournful," he said. "But I won't stop depicting Kim Jong Il, because now he has become a symbol of the fallen dictator."
Kim Ik-hwan, secretary-general of Open Radio for North Korea, said that members of the service, which reports from Seoul on the reclusive communist regime, had been "checking with our sources at the Chinese-NK border region. We checked with them ... [when] the announcement was made. They weren't aware of Kim's death until then. And then after the announcement was made, ... we spoke with them on the phone.
"Rather than being mournful and sorry," he said, "they were frustrated and annoyed that the announcement came out late, two days after the leader's death."
He said that "because our sources are merchants who do import/export and smuggle goods at the border, they were afraid that this will have a direct influence on their economic conditions. They were afraid that customs will be closing due to the mourning period.
"Overall, our sources were more worried about the economic effects."
He said that with Kim Jong Un stepping into a leadership role, "North Koreans seem to relatively have a renewed expectation. This does not mean that they are supportive of Kim Jong Un, but at least they are hoping that with the new leader there finally will be some changes."
Sohn Jung-hoon, director of North Korean Defectors' Vision Network, heaped spite on the late dictator and his regime. "Kim Jong Il was a terrible leader," he said. "The North Koreans suffered too much with famine and economic hardships."
He said he had unsuccessfully tried to contact North Koreans on Monday following the news of the strongman's death. "I am hopeful that there's change in the air. Right now, I am trying to connect with my contacts in the border region," he said.
"But it seems like it's going to be really tough. Even though calling them was illegal, ... we had managed to contact them [in the past]. But now, all the lines have been shut off."
REPORTING FROM SEOUL -– Watching on television and smartphone screens, South Koreans on Monday reacted with both shock and delight at news of the death of North Korean strongman Kim Jong Il.
South Korea has always been of two minds about its northern neighbor. Many here see North Koreans as misguided cousins who will one day be brought back into the fold of a united Korea. Many say they would side with Pyongyang in a war with the U.S., a longtime Seoul ally.
Others have dismissed North Koreans as uneducated masses in the trance of an unhinged leader who long threatened to bring the entire peninsula to ruin. For them, the news Monday of Kim's death signaled one step toward economic Armageddon –- the failure of the regime sending 24 million poor and hungry North Koreans across a suddenly-defunct DMZ, creating havoc in the South Korean economy.
At Seoul Station, the nation's largest transportation hub where travelers routinely gape at super-sized television screens, many commuters watched the noon-hour announcement of Kim's death with open mouths, many asking people near them if the news could be true. Others stared dumbfounded at smartphone screens.
REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY — Miguel Angel Granados Chapa, an award-winning Mexican journalist who spent decades trying to push his homeland toward greater freedom of expression and democracy, has died. He was 70.
Granados Chapa died Sunday afternoon, according to the daily newspaper Reforma,which had run his well-read Plaza Publica column since the early 1990s. Granados Chapa was reported to have been diagnosed with cancer several years ago. Reforma suspended the Plaza Publica column intermittently in recent months because of his declining health.
On Friday, after a journalistic career that spanned more than 40 years, Granados Chapa bade farewell to readers of his column. “This is the last time we meet,” he wrote. “With this conviction, I say goodbye.”
Granados Chapa, who employed an erudite writing style and an ethicist’s eye to skewer the petty motivations of Mexican presidents and lesser politicians, was among the country’s most-respected journalists. He won the national journalism prize three times and in 2008 was awarded the coveted Belisario Dominguez Medal, granted to Mexicans who have achieved eminence in their fields.
Granados Chapa’s long journalistic career paralleled — and may have helped spur — Mexico’s shift from one-party authoritarianism to a developing, if imperfect, democracy. He portrayed his professional work as a struggle to make Mexico’s opaque system more transparent, and described his Plaza Publica column as kind of civic meeting place. “Like what happens in the Zocalo,” he once said, referring to Mexico’s City’s main square.