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North Korea

North Korea prepares leadership conference

Reuters

North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party will hold its first major political meeting since Kim Jong-Il came to power in 1980, it said Tuesday. The conference “for electing its supreme leadership body” will take place in Pyongyang on 28 September, according to state media.

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Kim has been suffering from health problems since suffering a stroke in 2008. There is speculation the meeting could be preparing the way for a power transfer to his youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, who is believed to be aged around 27.

But Kim is not expected to step down as leader, unless his health deteriorates further. Kim Jong-Un is likely to be appointed to a key party post and named heir apparent, without completely taking over from his father, according to analysts.

"The meeting holds a great deal of significance," says James Grayson, a North Korean expert from the University of Sheffield. "There's been a lot of lead up to it, which indicates there's been discussion amongst the various factions within North Korea to get everyone on side. The importance with this meeting is that there won't be any discussion. The meeting will agree to what's already been decided behind the scenes."

Japanese newspaper Tokyo Shimbun said Sunday that the Workers' Party has already named Kim Jong-Un as heir apparent, citing an official document, which said Kim Jong-Un had "received a revolutionary education and influence from the beloved supreme commander and his respected mother to equip himself with the dignity and qualities necessary for a great successor to the revolution".

The North Korean regime has never released any pictures of Kim Jong-Un as an adult.

The conference had been scheduled for early September but was postponed because of serious flooding, officials say.

Meanwhile, US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinbeg said Monday that North Korea must approve a 2005 denuclearisation agreement before talks with China and the US can resume.  China is North Korea's main source of food, fuel and finance.

North Korea on Tuesday denounced South Korea and the United States for planning anti-submarine drills in the Yellow Sea, describing them as a "nuclear war rehearsal".

South Korea and the United States had planned a joint naval exercise from September 5 to 9 but it was delayed due to a typhoon. It has reportedly been rescheduled for next week.

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