North Korean leader gives brother-in-law top job

Kim Jong-il has named his brother-in-law Jang Song Thaek to a top military board.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has added his brother-in-law to a military board in a move analysts say paves the way for an heir, according to South Korea’s state-sponsored Yonhap news agency.

The addition of his kin to the powerful National Defense Commission also solidifies his standing, Yonhap said. Kim was reappointed Thursday as chairman of the military board in his first major public appearance since a reported stroke in August. His brother-in-law, Jang Song Thaek, is considered his right-hand man, according to Yonhap. Jang, who has been married to Kim’s sister since 1972, currently serves as a director of the Workers’ Party, Yonhap said. “Kim wants to keep the military in check and secure loyalty to both the military and the party,” Cha Doo-hyeogn, a North Korea expert, told Yonhap. Kim also increased the number of members in the military agency to 13, from eight, Yonhap said.

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“Overall, the power of the National Defense Commission was strengthened,” Seoul’s Unification Ministry spokesman, Kim Ho-nyoun, told Yonhap in a briefing. There were no other major changes in the new parliament, which signifies that Kim, 67, is prepared to maintain the status quo as he readies someone to take over from him, analysts told Yonhap. Kim’s recent health problems and long absence from public functions have prompted speculation on whether he is ready to groom an heir to the world’s only communist dynasty. But the secretive nation shields its internal affairs from international scrutiny. Analysts told Yonhap that Jang may serve as caretaker for Kim’s successor, who will possibly be one of his three sons.