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N. Korean leader heading for eastern China: sources

BEIJING, China (Yonhap) -- A special train carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong-il appears to be heading south for Yangzhou, adjacent to China's economic capital Shanghai, sources said Sunday, contradicting expectations that he would visit Beijing after departing from northeastern Chinese cities.

Kim began his secretive trip to China last Friday, when his train crossed the border and arrived in Tumen and Mudanjiang. On Saturday, the second day of his visit, Kim toured a car plant in Changchun, an industrial hub in northeastern China, before passing through Shenyang and heading south.

According to multiple sources, security has been noticeably tightened around the main train station in Yangzhou in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu, where his late father and North Korean founder Kim Il-sung held talks with then Chinese leader Jiang Zemin in 1991.

Kim is expected to arrive in Yangzhou late Sunday, if the city is his next destination.

The 69-year-old North Korean leader reportedly visited Yangzhou in 2001, when he traveled to Shanghai. At that time, Kim marveled at economic progress in Shanghai, which has transformed into a major economic powerhouse after decades of economic reform that lifted millions of Chinese out of poverty.

It was not clear whether Kim will again tour Shanghai on this trip, his third in slightly over one year. China and North Korea usually confirm the North Korean leader's trip only after it's over apparently due to security concerns.

The trip comes as Kim is seeking to further strengthen economic cooperation with China and cement his plan to carry out a third generation power exchange.

China is the North's last remaining ally and benefactor and its support is widely seen as a key in maintaining stability in the North.

Kim, who inherited power from his father, has been grooming his youngest son, Jong-un, as his successor since he suffered a stroke in 2008.

He named Jong-un vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers' Party and a four-star general last September in what analysts believe is the clearest move yet to make him the North's next leader.

Despite rampant speculation, it has yet to be confirmed whether Jong-un is included in the elder Kim's 70-member entourage to China.

The trip also comes amid a flurry of diplomacy to boost cooperation in the region and as Washington is preparing to send a top envoy to Pyongyang to assess the food situation.

In Tokyo, South Korea President Lee Myung-bak and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao for their annual summit.

They expressed concerns over Pyongyang's uranium enrichment program and called for the right dialogue atmosphere to revive the six-party talks on ending the North's nuclear programs.

<관련 한글 기사>

(베이징.톈진=연합뉴스) 방중 사흘째인 22일 김정일 북한 국방위원장이 장쑤(江蘇)성 양저우(揚州)로 향한 것으로 알려졌다.

현지 소식통은 "양저우 역 주변의 경계경비가 강화되고 있는 것으로 안다"고 말했다.

양저우는 고(故) 김일성 주석이 생존 시절인 1991년 10월에 방문해 당시 장쩌민(江澤民) 주석과 회담한 곳으로 알려졌다. 양저우는 장쩌민 전 주석의 고향이다. 구체적으로 알려지지 않고 있으나 양저우에는 김일성 주석의 흔적이 많이 남겨져 있는 것으로 알려졌다.

김정일 위원장은 지난 2001년 방중에서 상하이(上海)와 더불어 양저우를 방문했던 것으로 전해졌으며 김영일 외무성 부상을 단장을 한 북한 대표단이 2009년 9월에도 이 곳을 찾은 바 있다.