Kim Jong-il, North Korea's top leader who ambitiously pursued a nuclear weapons programme, died Saturday during a train journey "from a great mental and physical strain". He was 69, the country's official KCNA news agency announced Monday.
On learning about Kim's death, South Korea promptly put its security forces on high alert as Washington said it was in touch with Seoul and Tokyo, reports Xinhua.
|AFP PHOTO / KCNA via KNS|
The KCNA said that the "Korean revolution" is now led by his son Kim Jong-un, and that the powerful "Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) members, servicepersons and all other people will be faithful to his leadership".
Kim Jong-un is the youngest son of Kim Jong-il and his late third wife Ko Yong-hui, said BBC.
Kim died "from a great mental and physical strain at 08.30 Dec 17, 2011, on train during a field guidance tour", said the official media report.
Kim, who had received medical treatment for his cardiac diseases for a long period, suffered "an advanced acute myocardial infarction, complicated with a serious heart shock", on the train, reported Xinhua.
The report said that every possible first-aid measure was taken immediately, which failed to save Kim's life, adding that an autopsy Sunday "fully confirmed the diagnosis of his diseases".
Kim had taken power in 1994 following the death of his father, Kim Il-sung.
Kim built a nuclear arsenal, which culminated in North Korea's first nuclear test explosion in 2006. Another test took place in 2009.
He led the country, having an estimated population of 24 million, with an iron hand.
Kim's death was announced in an emotional statement read out on national television. The announcer, wearing black, said he died Saturday of physical and mental over-work.
Kim is believed to have suffered ill health for many years.
In April 2009, North Korea's constitution was amended and now implicitly refers to him as the "Supreme Leader".
South Korea was in a state of high alert Monday following Kim's death.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak convened the National Security Council (NSC) to discuss follow-up measures with cabinet ministers.
Lee reportedly ordered all government employees be put on emergency alert.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) put the military on alert and called an emergency meeting.
Authorities have stepped up border surveillance, but no unusual activity has been detected yet, according to Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency.
JCS officials are reportedly considering raising both defense readiness and surveillance status.
South Korean police also intensified vigilance.
The US too swung into action and was in close touch with South Korea and Japan over Kim's death.
The White House said it remains committed to stability in the Korean Peninsula.
"We are closely monitoring reports that Kim Jong Il is dead," White House spokesperson Jay Carney said in a statement.
"The president (Barack Obama) has been notified, and we are in close touch with our allies in South Korea and Japan," Xinhua quoted him as saying.
"We remain committed to stability on the Korean peninsula, and to the freedom and security of our allies."
North Korea is one of the world's most centrally directed and least open economies. It faces chronic economic problems due to years of underinvestment, and poor maintenance.
Large-scale military spending has drawn off resources needed for investment and civilian consumption. Industrial and power output have stagnated for years at a fraction of pre-1990 levels. Frequent weather-related crop failures aggravated chronic food shortages caused by on-going systemic problems, including a lack of arable land, collective farming practices, poor soil quality, insufficient fertilization, and persistent shortages of tractors and fuel.