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Doubts over `Dear Leader'

SO little is known in the West about the man who may soon rule North Korea - and possibly command a nuclear bomb - that the slightest shard of a rumor about his behavior is inspected abroad like a new meteorite.

Did Kim Jong Il, son of ``Great Leader'' Kim Il Sung and the heir apparent, fall off a horse last year and suffer permanent disability?

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Was ``Dear Leader,'' as he is called, rude to subordinates at a public event?

Was he to blame for North Korea's terrorist attacks in the 1980s?

Piecing together the younger Kim's character provides clues for US military analysts who wonder if he might prove a dangerous foe after his father leaves the scene.

The worst scenario: He launches a war as his power is challenged by military usurpers.

That uncertainty makes many Western and Asian analysts wish long life to the father.

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