Kim Jong-il died of heart attack. North Korea mourns for 11 days.
Kim Jong-il died of a heart attack Saturday, due to 'overwork and stress' according to North Korean officials. Experts are concerned that his third son, Kim Jong-un, may feel the need to prove himself by precipitating a crisis.
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Whether the transition would be a smooth one remained an open question, however.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Inside North Korea: more circus than bread
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South Korea's military has been put on high alert, and experts warned that the next few days could be a crucial turning point for the North, which though impoverished by economic mismanagement and repeated famine, has a relatively well-supported, 1.2 million-strong armed forces.
"The situation could become extremely volatile. What the North Korean military does in the next 24-48 hours will be decisive," said Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who has made several high-profile visits to North Korea.
Kim was in power for 17 years after the death of his father, the charismatic founder of the North Korean nation.
His death could set back efforts by the United States and others to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions. It also comes at a sensitive time for North Korea, which is preparing for next year's 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung.
Concerns are high that Kim Jong Un — being young and largely untested — may feel he needs to prove himself by precipitating a crisis or displaying his swagger on the international stage.
North Korea conducted at least one short-range missile test Monday, a South Korean official said. But South Korea's military sees the firing as part of a scheduled routine drill, instead of a provocation, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of a policy that bans commenting on intelligence matters.
Some analysts, however, said Kim's death was unlikely to plunge the country into chaos because it already was preparing for a transition. Kim Jong Il indicated a year ago that Kim Jong Un would be his successor, putting him in high-ranking posts.
South Korea's president urged his people to remain calm while his Cabinet and the Parliament convened emergency meetings Tuesday.
The Defense Ministry said the South Korean military and the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea had bolstered reconnaissance and were sharing intelligence on North Korea.
The White House said in a statement that it is closely monitoring reports of Kim's death. The Obama administration may postpone decisions on re-engaging the North in nuclear talks and providing it with food aid, U.S. officials said.
The administration had been expected to decide on both issues this week, possibly as early as Monday, but the officials said Kim's death would likely delay the process.
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