Doubts over `Dear Leader'

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

SO little is known in the West about the man who may soon rule North Korea - and possibly command a nuclear bomb - that the slightest shard of a rumor about his behavior is inspected abroad like a new meteorite.

Did Kim Jong Il, son of ``Great Leader'' Kim Il Sung and the heir apparent, fall off a horse last year and suffer permanent disability?

Was ``Dear Leader,'' as he is called, rude to subordinates at a public event?

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Was he to blame for North Korea's terrorist attacks in the 1980s?

Piecing together the younger Kim's character provides clues for US military analysts who wonder if he might prove a dangerous foe after his father leaves the scene.

The worst scenario: He launches a war as his power is challenged by military usurpers.

That uncertainty makes many Western and Asian analysts wish long life to the father.

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