N.K. leader‘s aunt likely in critical condition’

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jan 8, 2014 - 18:08
  • Updated : Jan 8, 2014 - 18:08
‘N.K. leader‘s aunt likely in critical condition’

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s aunt appears to be in a critical condition due to a heart problem, a senior South Korean official said Wednesday.

Kim Kyong-hui, 67, a senior party secretary and wife of the recently executed Jang Song-thaek, visited Russia between September and October last year for medical treatment, the official said.

“We believe (she) is in critical condition,” the official said, noting that her heart problems appeared to have worsened due to alcoholism.

She also visited Singapore in 2010 for medical treatment, another South Korean official said. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the issue.

Kim Kyong-hui was last seen in public on Sept. 9 when she watched a military performance.

South Korea‘s assessment of Kim’s ill health came nearly a month after the North executed her husband, Jang Song-thaek, on charges of treason.

Kim Kyong-hui’s conspicuous absence from key anniversary events in North Korea following Jang’s bloody purge has raised questions about her political fate and medical condition.

Heart problems appear to run in Kim‘s family. Kim Jong-un’s father, longtime leader Kim Jong-il, died suddenly of a heart attack in 2011. North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of the current leader, also died of heart failure in 1994.

Meanwhile, North Korea will hold elections in March to select deputies for its rubber-stamp legislature amid fresh calls to ease lingering tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

The Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly “decided to hold an election of deputies to the 13th SPA on March 9,” the Korean Central News Agency said in a short dispatch from Pyongyang.

The dispatch did not give any further details.

The current members of the North’s legislature were elected in March 2009 and their five-year terms are set to end in March.

The upcoming elections, the first since Kim took over the communist country in 2011, are expected to select loyalists of the young leader in a move that analysts say will further consolidate Kim‘s grip on power.

It was not immediately clear whether Kim will run for a seat in parliament. Kim’s father was elected uncontested in past elections. Kim Jong-il died suddenly of a heart attack in 2011.

The North‘s decision also comes amid the latest peace offensives by South and North Korea to improve their soured relations.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye proposed earlier this week that the Koreas resume reunions for families separated following the 1950-53 Korean War, though the North has yet to respond.

Park’s comment came just five days after Kim called for “a favorable climate” to improve inter-Korean ties in his New Year’s message.

The conflict ended in a cease-fire, leaving the two sides still technically at war. Their border is tightly sealed, with no direct means of contact between ordinary civilians. (Yonhap News)