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Kim Jong-un (Kim Jong Woon)
"The Great Successor"

North Korea proclaimed the beginning of the Kim Jong Un era on Thursday 22 December 2011, describing him as the "successor" of the nation's revolutionary undertakings "and leader of its people." Kim Jong Un, the youngest of Kim Jong-il's three sons, holds the military rank of a four-star general, despite having little military experience and being in his late 20s. In a dispatch late Saturday 23 December 2011, the official Korean Central News Agency called General Kim the "supreme leader of the revolutionary armed forces." Earlier Saturday, KCNA hailed Mr. Kim as "supreme commander" - the first use of that title, also used by his late father. And on Monday 22 December 2011, the Communist Party's Rodong Sinmun referred to Kim Jong Un as leader of the ruling Workers' Party Central Committee, a post that gave Kim Jong Un power over one of the country's highest decision-making bodies.

Kim Jong Un, the youngest son of Kim Jong Il, was promoted to the Workers' Party Central Committee and the Party's Central Military Commission at a party convention in September 2010, and to the rank of four-star general of the Korean People's Army the day before, putting him in line to succeed his father. The election of Kim Jong-un as one of the two Vice-Chairmen of the NDC of the State and the CMC of the party clearly placed him in a position to succeed his father as the ruler of North Korea.

On 25 June 2010 the official Korean Central News Agency reported that the Korean Workers' Party would convene a meeting in early September 2010 to elect its "highest leading body". This was generally viewed as a step toward holding a Party Congress [which had not been convened since 1980], which could herald a transfer of power designating leader Kim Jong Il's third son, Kim Jong Un, as his successor.

In April 2010 Mainichi printed a photo of a young man [suspected of being] Kim Jong-un accompanying North Korea's "Dear Leader" on a visit to a steel mill in North Hamgyong Province. But this photograph does not resemble subsequent portraits. Kim Jong-un was also reported to have organised the fireworks display along the Taedong River in Pyongyang marking the 98th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the founder of the nation and Kim Jong-il's father.

Yonhap news agency reported 26 April 2009 that Kim Jong-il's youngest son, 26-year-old Kim Jong Un, took up a low-level post at the National Defense Commission a few days before the Parliament reappointed Kim Jong-il as the commission's chairman on 09 April 2009. Kim Jong-un was expected to assume higher-level Defense Commission posts in preparation to succeed his father.

On 15 January 2009 South Korean news agency Yonhap reported North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had tapped his third son to be his successor and sent his nomination to the leadership of the ruling party. The reportedly ailing Kim Jong-il "delivered a directive around January 8 that he has named [Kim] Jong-un as his successor to the leadership of the Workers' Party," Yonhap quoted a well-informed source as saying on condition of anonymity. Yonhap said Jong-un's nomination was completely unexpected in North Korea, even among the Worker's Party leadership, and was most likely driven by Kim Jong-il's rapidly deteriorating health.

Kim Jong-un was born in 1983 to Kim Jong-il's third wife, Ko Yong-hi, who died of breast cancer at the age of 51 in 2004. According to Yonhap, the youngest of Kim's three sons, Jong-un was educated at the International School of Berne and is a fan of NBA basketball.

On 17 January 2009 a source inside the ROK Ministry of Unification (MoU) stated "The succession issue generates diverse rumors, but nothing is confirmed. We have not heard of an instruction appointing Jong Woon as successor to Kim Jong Il being transmitted to the Guidance Department of the Party." Kim Jong Il's second son, Jong Cheol, who was said at one stage to be suffering from narcotics addition, in addition to abnormal testosterone levels and other undesirable health conditions, was allegedly being supported in the succession battle by the First Vice Directors of the Guidance Department Lee Jeh Gang and Lee Yong Cheol. Some reports claim that Jong Woon has serious hypertension and diabetes.

Kim Jong-chul's younger brother Kim Jong-un / Kim Jong-woong / Kim Jung-woon was apparently born in the 1983 to 1985 timeframe, though accounts are in conflict. Indeed, as of May 2001 the BBC was unaware of the fact of the existence of this individual. Kim Jong-Ils youngest son also may have been in the running for succession, though Kim Jong-chul would normally be favored because he is the elder.

Writing under his pen name, Kenji Fujimoto, a Japanese sushi chef who worked for Kim Jong-il for 13 years wrote a best-selling memoir, "I Was Kim Jong Il's Cook." Specialists following North Korea characterize Fujimoto's accounts as being credible. According to one account, "Fujimoto said, Kim would often bemoan that Kim Jong Chul, his 23-year old son, would never rule because he had turned out to be "like a girl." Fujimoto said Kim doted on his youngest son -- Kim Jong Woon, [then] 18, who looks like the North Korean leader." According to one rumor, Koh Yong Hee had ordered the Workers Party and high officials to call Jong-Woon the "Morning Star King".

In August 2004, international speculation regarding the North Korean succession increased due to reports in the South Korean press that Koh Yong Hee had died. Her favored position with Kim Jong-il, and her status among the North Korean armed forces had previously seemed to constitute tools to help entrench the authority and ensure the succession of one of her Kim Jong-il-sired sons - Kim Jong Chol and Kim Kong Woon. However, if reports of her death are true, some speculate that not only will this process be much more difficult, it may even open an opportunity for the shamed Kim Jong Nam to reassert his claim on the future leadership.

Chosun Ilbo reported 29 August 2013 that Kim Jong-un's ex-girlfriend was among a dozen well-known North Korean performers who were executed by firing squad on Aug. 20. Singer Hyon Song-wol, along with Mun Kyong-jin, head of the Unhasu Orchestra, were arrested 17 August 2013 for violating North Korean laws against pornography and were executed in public three days later. Other victims members of the Unhasu Orchestra as well as singers, musicians and dancers with the Wangjaesan Light Music Band. They were accused of videotaping themselves having sex and selling the videos. The tapes had apparently gone on sale in China as well. Some allegedly had Bibles in their possession, and all were treated as political dissidents. Kim met Hyon about a decade earlier, before either of them was married. He was later ordered to break off the relationship by his father Kim Jong-il, and she married a soldier. Since then there have been rumors that the two were having an affair. Kim's wife Ri Sol-ju was also a member of the Unhasu Orchestra before she married him. Whether she had any hand in the executions is unclear.

In July 2014, a portly Kim was seen awkwardly limping across a stage at a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the death of his grandfather, the country's founding president. Shortly thereafter, a state media documentary mentioned in passing that the leader, regarded by many North Koreans as an almost divine figure, was experiencing unspecified "discomfort." Kim had gained a large amount of weight since he took over as the country's top leader following the death of his father in 2011.

In late September 2014 North Korean media acknowledged the ill health of its young leader, 31-year-old Kim Jong-un, following a near-month-long absence from the spotlight. The news follows several public appearances by the leader where he was seen walking with a limp: the last included a July meeting with his cabinet and now a documentary about the government. “The wealth and prosperity of our socialism is thanks to the painstaking efforts of our marshal, who keeps lighting the path for the people, like the flicker of a flame, despite suffering discomfort,” the narrator can be heard saying in the documentary.

Some experts believed the North Korean leader has gout – a complex form of arthritis. “Based on his gait, it appears he has gout – something [due to] diet and genetic predisposition that has affected other members of the Kim family,” an expert on the North Korean leadership, Michael Madden, told The Guardian. There is no further information on the leader’s health at this time, but some have noted that he gained weight since taking over from his father Kim Jong-il, after the former leader died of a heart attack in 2011. Experts have said that young Kim’s weight and genetic predisposition could have been a factor in his suffering gout.

Gout is one of the most painful forms of arthritis. It occurs when too much uric acid builds up in the body. A gout attack can be brought on by stressful events, alcohol or drugs, or another illness. Doctors use medicines to treat an acute attack of gout, including: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs); Corticosteroids, such as prednisone; or Colchicine, which works best when taken within the first 12 hours of an acute attack. Early attacks usually get better within 3 to 10 days, even without treatment. The next attack may not occur for months or even years. Some people may develop chronic gout. This is also called gouty arthritis. This condition can lead to joint damage and loss of motion in the joints. People with chronic gout will have joint pain and other symptoms most of the time.

Another rumor pointed to possible surgery for the leader. According to independent broadcaster Free North Korea Radio, Kim had undergone ankle surgery at Bonghwa Clinic in Pyongyang, an exclusive hospital for high-ranking members, in mid-September to treat fractures and still remains in hospital.

Rumors of a military coup in the North were rampant on Chinese micro-blogging website Weibo, with posts stating that Kim had been arrested after being overthrown. To this, the U.S. State Department has declined to comment on the possiblity of a military coup in the communist state, saying that they can neither confirm nor deny the rumors. The North Korean leader's absence made the headlines in many countries, but some experts say its not a first nor should there be alarm. Kim reportedly went absent for two weeks in 2012, and returned to the public eye with no explanation.

Kim Yang-gon, who has been the North's top policymaker in charge of inter-Korean affairs since 2007, told South Korean Unification Minster Ryoo Kihl-jae during informal talks on 04 October 2014 that the young North Korean leader was fine. Ryoo said he had no reason to believe Kim Yang-gon was not being forthright.

Speculation over the health and political status of Kim Jong Un intensified 10 October 2014, as the North Korean leader remained out of public view on an important anniversary for the secretive, communist nation. State media, which normally provide a near-daily account of the activities of the North Korean leader, offered few clues, except for mentioning in passing that the leader was experiencing "discomfort."

Kim had not been seen in public since he attended a concert September 3, prompting speculation he was suffering from serious health problems, was sidelined in a coup and that it's possible his sister had taken over. With Kim's prolonged absence, the hunches are becoming more elaborate, with the latest pointing to Kim dealing with a speaking disorder due to a stroke. The longer he remained out of sight, the more uncertainly grew about the stability of a regime based on hereditary rule.

For the first time in nearly six weeks, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appeared in public in images released October 14, 2014 by state media. The North Korean ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun published photographs of Kim visiting a new housing complex in Pyongyang. The newspaper coverage included full-length photos showing Kim smiling and leaning on a black walking stick that he held in his left hand as he toured the residential complex that was built for scientists working on North Korea's satellite program.

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) told South Korean legislators 27 October 2014 that a foreign doctor flew to the counrty and operated on Kim in September or October to remove a cyst from his ankle. The NIS’s report also suggested the cyst would recur due to Kim’s health – he is obese and a heavy smoker – and his heavy public schedule. It wasn't immediately clear how the information was obtained by the spy agency, which has a spotty track record of analyzing developments in opaque North Korea.

Kim Jong Un - October 14, 2014 Kim Jong Un - October 14, 2014 Kim Jong Un - October 14, 2014

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