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N. Korea promotes Kim relative in reshuffle

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (center) sits on the podium during a rare second session of the Supreme People’s Assembly in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Monday, June 7, 2010. Sitting on the left side of Mr. Kim is the North’s No. 2 official, Kim Yong Nam.

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June 7, 2010

SEOUL (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s brother-in-law was promoted and a premier who apologized for a currency debacle was replaced Monday in a rare parliamentary session with strong signs that the secretive nation was preparing a hereditary succession of power.

Mr. Kim was shown on Pyongyang’s state-run television presiding over the session, sitting behind a desk in the middle of a long line of parliamentarians. The scene was shot from a distance, so it was difficult to assess the health of the 68-year-old Mr. Kim, believed to have suffered a stroke two years ago.

The rubber-stamp parliament, or the Supreme People’s Assembly, usually meets once each year to approve bills vetted by the ruling Workers’ Party. The body met in April, and no reason was given for holding Monday’s unusual second session.

But the session came amid worsening economic woes, pressing succession issues and a South Korean campaign to get the United Nations to punish Pyongyang for a ship attack in March that killed 46 sailors. North denies sinking the ship, and state-run media did not say whether parliament discussed the issue, which the South has taken to the United Nations.

Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said the lawmakers approved a major leadership reshuffle.

The most notable change was the promotion of Mr. Kim’s brother-in-law, Jang Song Thaek. He was named vice chairman of the all-powerful National Defense Commission, which makes security policy. Mr. Jang is widely believed to be a key backer of the North Korean leader’s third son, Jong Un, who several analysts think will be his father’s successor.

Mr. Jang is married to Mr. Kim’s younger sister and is said to be poised to play a kingmaker role. Many believe he may lead a collective leadership after Mr. Kim’s death until the new leader takes over.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul-based University of North Korean Studies, said, “Electing Jang Song Thaek to the post of vice chairman officially appoints him as No. 2 in facilitating stable succession of power.”

He added, “With this post, he has been given all responsibility and rights to secure a stable structure for future succession.”

The new premier was identified as Choe Yong Rim, a parliament member who replaces Kim Yong-il, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency reported.

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