SEOUL (Reuters) – China, which may have received advanced notice of the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, has moved swiftly to call on the United States and other countries to help maintain stability in the reclusive state, officials and news reports said.
North Korea is in mourning since it announced Kim’s demise on Monday, two days after the 69-year-old iron ruler died of a heart attack, plunging the region into uncertainty over its stability and who had control over its nuclear weapons programme.
The official KCNA news agency said at least five million people — one-fifth of the population of the impoverished state — had paid condolences at statues and portraits of the leader and his father, North Korea’s founder Kim Il-Sung.
“These places turned into a veritable sea of mourners who bitterly wept, looking up to portraits of smiling Kim Jong-il,” it said.
His son Kim Jong-un, thought to be in his 20s, has been anointed the successor.
The younger Kim, along with top army and government officials, paid respects on Tuesday to his father, whose body was placed in a glass topped bier surrounded by the red “Kimjongilia” flowers named after him, television footage showed.
A leading South Korean newspaper reported on Wednesday that China, isolated North Korea’s only major ally, learned of Kim’s death soon after it occurred on Saturday.
JoongAng Ilbo quoted an unidentified source in Beijing as saying the Chinese ambassador to North Korea had obtained intelligence of Kim’s death and reported it to the capital on December 17, the day Kim died of an apparent heart attack while on a train.
“North Korea informed China of Kim’s death through diplomatic channels on the following day,” the source was quoted as saying.
Top South Korean intelligence and military officials have come under criticism for failing to learn of Kim’s death before the official announcement by Pyongyang.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak left on a state visit for Ja