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Kim Jong II promotes brother-in-law, fuels succession talk

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SEOUL – North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s three sons are not the only ones with strong enough family connections to make them contenders for power as their father, weak and still ailing, casts about for a successor.

While Mr. Kim may hope to groom one of his sons to succeed him, he seems to be counting right now on the economic acumen of his brother-in-law, Jang Song Taek, to buttress his regime. In one of his first gestures after the Supreme People’s Assembly elected him unanimously to a third five-year term as chairman of the National Defense Commission, the center of power in North Korea, Kim made Mr. Jang a commission member.

North Korea's launch of a long-range Taepodong-2 missile on Sunday set the stage for the assembly to rubberstamp Kim’s third term Thursday. Then, on Friday, came word of the reshuffle, seen as a sign of Kim’s desire to impose greater control over the armed forces.

The defense commission grew from eight to 13 members with the addition of two people rewarded for their role in the missile launch. “Overall,” a spokesman for South Korea’s unification ministry told reporters in Seoul, “the power of the defense commission was strengthened.”

While China and Russia forestall a strong scolding for the launch by the UN Security Council, however, Japan became the first country to retaliate decisively.

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