Kim using gifts to win support
Seoul - North Korean leader Kim Jong Il doled out foreign-made cars to senior intelligence officials to ensure their loyalty to his youngest son when he put the 26-year-old in charge of the country's powerful spy agency, a report said on Wednesday.
The appointment is part of Kim's plan to anoint the son, Kim Jong Un, as North Korea's future leader, South Korea's Dong-a Ilbo newspaper said, citing an unidentified source. The son is also overseeing the handling of two US journalists detained in March while on a reporting trip to the Chinese-North Korea border, the report said.
Who will take over as ruler of the nuclear-armed North has been the focus of intense media speculation since the 67-year-old Kim reportedly suffered a stroke last August.
Kim, who has three sons, has controlled the reclusive, impoverished nation of 24 million with absolute authority, sparking concerns about instability and a power struggle if he were to die without naming a successor.
Seoul's spy agency reported to lawmakers early this month that Pyongyang notified its diplomatic missions and government agencies overseas that Jong Un would be tapped as the next leader.
Seoul's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper has reported that he was given the title of "Brilliant Comrade", another sign that the regime was preparing to name him as successor.
Jong Un was serving as acting chair of the National Defence Commission, the country's highest post, one currently held by his father, Japan's Mainichi newspaper reported last weekend.
Wednesday's Dong-a Ilbo report said Kim ordered senior officials at the State Security Department in March to "uphold" Jong Un as head of the agency. Kim told the officials to "safeguard comrade Kim Jong Un with [your] lives as you did for me in the past," the mass-market daily said.
Five luxury cars, each worth about $80 000, were given as gifts to the officials, it said. The paper did not say which cars were given. However, Kim has long been known to favour Mercedes Benz cars and French wine as gifts to ensure his inner circle's loyalty.
South Korea's main spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, said it could not confirm the report.