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In Koreatown, observers wonder who will succeed Kim Jong Il

December 19, 2011 | 12:58 pm


All around Koreatown on Monday, the death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il was Topic A. And the big question is who will succeed him.

John Kim, 75, a retired construction material salesman from South Korea, was sitting on a bench inside Koreatown Plaza. He was reading a Korean-language newspaper with a large photo of Kim Jong Il on its front.

"The problem is who is going to be the leader," he said. "His son is too young. A man can't control the country that young. It's impossible."

PHOTOS: World reacts to death of Kim Jong Il

He thinks there might be tensions between North Korea's military and government leaders over who will control the country.

"South and North Korea must be unified peacefully," he said. He hopes that the countries' unification will be possible with Kim dead, but he doesn't know what will happen.

He learned of the leader's death while watching television Sunday night.

"It's big news," he said. "Big, big news."

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.

Sun Woo An, 41 is part owner of his family's bookstore, Korean Book Center, in Koreatown Plaza. His family has run the bookstore, first opened in Seoul, since the 1920s. It opened in the United States in the 1970s.

Sun Woo was putting out a few Korean-language newspapers with Kim Jong Il's face on them.

"In North Korea, he is the owner, not the president," he said of Kim. "He is the king, the god of North Korea."

"He is not dead. People say he is not dead. Death is when the body is gone, but his spirit is in North Korea."

FULL COVERAGE: Kim Jong Il | 1942-2011

People are nervous, Sun Woo said. They are afraid of someone worse than Kim, but they hope for something better.

Sun Woo does wedding photography and was downtown Sunday night taking photos when he heard the news about Kim Jong Il. As he was taking photos, one of the wedding guests came to him and whispered in his ear that Kim was dead. He kept taking photos, but after he got home around midnight, he checked the news because he couldn't believe it.

"It's very shocking."

Sun Woo has been in the United States for seven years. His mother and sister sponsored him. The news, he says, is huge for South Korea as well as North Korea because there is so much tension between the countries. He hopes the dictator's death will help improve the countries' relationship.


Los Angeles Times obituary of Kim Jong Il

Kim Jong Il's death: Defectors speak out

World leaders react to death of Kim Jong Il

-- Hailey Branson-Potts in Koreatown

Photo: Sun Woo An, manager of Korean Book Center in Los Angeles, looks at a South Korean newspaper leading with the news about Kim Jong Il's death. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times