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Terrorism & Security

After Kim Jong-il: Who is really in charge in North Korea? (VIDEO)

In the wake of Kim Jong-il's death, son Kim Jong-un will rule North Korea alongside his uncle and members of the military, Reuters reports. 

By Correspondent / December 21, 2011

New North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un (front) pays his respects to his father and former leader Kim Jong-il, lying in state at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang in this still picture taken from video footage aired on Tuesday. North Korea's new young leader will have to share power with an uncle and the military after the death of his father as the isolated country shifts to collective rule from strongman dictatorship, a source with close ties to Pyongyang and Beijing said on Wednesday.

KRT via REUTERS TV/Reuters

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Kim Jong-un, the "great successor" to his father Kim Jong-il, who died Saturday, will not lead North Korea alone but will share power with several other members of the regime, says a new report.

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According to a source with "close ties to Pyongyang and Beijing," Reuters reports, Kim Jong-un will head a ruling coterie, sharing power with his uncle – Kim Jong-Il's brother-in-law, Jang Song-thaek – and the military.  This would be the first time since its foundation that North Korea would not be led by a single figure – both the nation's founder, Kim Il-Sung, and his son, Kim Jong-Il, retained sole control of the government during their reigns.

The source, who, Reuters notes, correctly predicted North Korea's 2006 nuclear warhead test, said that the North Korean military "has pledged allegiance to Kim Jong-un," and that the risk of a military coup is "very unlikely."

The source also says that Beijing, despite being North Korea's closest ally, first heard of Kim Jong-Il's death at Monday's public announcement, two days after he had died.  (Similarly, South Korean spy chief Won Sei Hoon is under pressure to resign due to Seoul's lack of warning about Kim Jong-il's death before the announcement, writes Bloomberg.)

The apparently smooth transition of power is likely due to Kim Jong-il setting up the coterie before his death, Koh Yu-hwan, president of the Korean Association of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told Reuters. "The relative calm seen these few days shows it's been effective. If things were not running smoothly, then we'd have seen a longer period of 'rule by mummy,' with Kim Jong-il being faked as still being alive," Mr. Koh said, adding that Kim Jong-Un would accept the coterie's setup for now.

But Takashi Yokota, writing for the Daily Beast, argues that a coterie is actually nothing new, and that Kim Jong-il ruled in tandem with the military. "Contrary to the popular assumption that Kim Jong-il was the absolute leader," Mr. Yokota writes, "the Dear Leader was more of a figurehead who depended on his generals, instead of the other way around."

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