North Korea sets date for rare leadership conference

John Sudworth says many people think Kim Jong-il is preparing to hand over power

North Korea's ruling party will hold its first conference in a generation on 28 September, state media reports say, amid speculation that leader Kim Jong-il is about to name his successor.

The Workers Party is widely expected to promote Mr Kim's third son, Kim Jong-un, to a senior position.

Observers believe a promotion would anoint him as the heir to his father, the self-styled Dear Leader.

Analysis

Finally, we have confirmation of a date for the meeting that North Korea has been calling "historic" and "a turning point".

So, next Tuesday, all eyes will be on one young man - Kim Jong-un, widely believed to be the favourite to take over from his father, but about whom very little is known in the outside world.

It's unlikely to look like much of a coronation, but if he is elevated to a senior party position it will be a clear signal that a successor has been chosen.

How easy it will be for a young, inexperienced third-generation heir to gain the confidence of the military and other powerful leading figures is another matter.

Mr Kim, 68, is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008.

The Korean Central News Agency carried a short statement early on Tuesday announcing the party meeting.

"The conference of the WPK [Workers Party of Korea] for electing its supreme leadership body will take place in Pyongyang on 28 September," the statement said.

The announcement ends weeks of speculation about the date of the meeting, which was originally due to take place sometime early this month.

The news agency gave no indication of why it had been postponed.

There has been speculation that it was delayed because of severe flooding in the north of the country, or because the health of the leader has taken another turn for the worse.

Successor

Kim Jong-il was promoted at a previous conference in 1980, which at the time was seen as confirmation that he would succeed his father, Kim Il-sung.

He eventually became leader after his father's death in 1994, and has led the country into isolation from the outside world.

In recent years Mr Kim is believed to have sought medical treatment in China, one of the country's few allies. Neither nation has confirmed details of any illnesses or treatments.

The reclusive leader, who rarely travels abroad, last visited China in August.

One South Korean TV station cited a South Korean official as saying Kim Jong-un had accompanied his father on the trip.

Rumours emerged last year from the secretive state that Kim Jong-un, thought to be aged 26 or 27, was his father's chosen successor.

Little is known of Swiss-educated Kim Jong-un, and he has never been photographed by Western media.

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