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North Korea hereditary succession won't work: defector

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - North Korean efforts to install one of ailing leader Kim Jong-il’s sons as a hereditary successor are likely to fail, a senior defector from the communist country said on Tuesday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visits a salmon research institute at an undisclosed place in North Korea in this undated recent picture released by North Korea's official KCNA news agency October 20, 2009. KCNA did not state expressly the date when the picture was taken. REUTERS/KCNA

Kim Kwang-jin, a former state insurance executive who helped unveil widespread damage claims fraud by Pyongyang, said Kim’s relative recovery from an apparent 2008 stroke does not alter the fact that the era of Kim rule is fading.

“Fragile, worsening health, long drawn-out economic collapse and growing political instability in North Korea indicate that the Kim Jong-il regime is drawing to an end,” Kim told a panel at a Washington thinktank.

“Right now we are seeing another try in North Korea at hereditary succession. I don’t think it will work well,” said the former manager at the state-owned Korea National Insurance Corp, who defected to South Korea in 2003.

Kim Jong-il inherited control of North Korea when his father Kim Il-sung died in 1994.

He is believed to have suffered a stroke in August 2008 and dropped out of public view for nearly a year as speculation mounted that Kim’s third son Kim Jung-un was being groomed as the next leader.

Visitors to Pyongyang this year who met Kim Jong-il, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, said the 67-year-old leader appeared alert and in command.

Kim Kwang-jin told an audience at the Brookings Institution that although speculation about succession had subsided, the question remained “not when it will happen but how it will occur.”

A likely scenario for the next leadership was a “regent or transitional collective management” centered on Chang Song-taek, Kim Jong-il’s only brother-in-law and a technocrat trusted by the military, he said.

The international community should prepare for the transition and broaden its dealings with North Korea beyond the current focus on ending Pyongyang’s nuclear arms program, Kim Kwang-jin recommended.

“The next regime, regardless of who succeeds, will be unable to maintain the same policy that the current regime is pursuing,” he said.

Kim Kwang-jin predicted a government more focused on meeting the economic needs of its people and less inclined toward hostility to the outside world and provocative military behavior.

Editing by John O’Callaghan