| 20.12,11. 09:16 AM |
Nuclear alert as 'Little Kim' to rule North Korea
December 20, 2011
NORTH Korea last night dramatically marked the sudden death of its despot leader Kim Jong-il by firing a short range missile, putting nervous world leaders on nuclear alert.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted an unnamed government official as saying the launches were unrelated to the announcement that Kim had died on Saturday of a heart attack.
"The missiles are estimated to have a range of about 120 kilometres," the official said on condition of anonymity.
"We believe the North test-fired the missiles to try to improve their capabilities and range. We don't see this as more than test-firing."
Seoul's defence ministry declined to confirm the reported launches.
North Korea has been testing its new KN-06 missile, a modified version of the KN-01 and KN-02 ground-to-ground missiles, Yonhap said.
The communist country has frequently conducted short-range missile tests in recent years. South Korean officials say they are part of routine exercises but the tests are sometimes timed to coincide with periods of tension.
South Korea put its military on alert as the North's state television announced on Monday that the 69-year-old leader had died.
His heir apparent, third son Kim Jong-un, 28, is a four-star general with little military experience who experts fear has similar "ruthless" traits to his father, who died at the weekend.
Said one: "Jong-un is known to have the potential to become a strong, ruthless leader."
He also grew up a fan of Hollywood tough guy Jean-Claude Van Damme, according to legend.
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Australia: Rudd urges calm
South Korea ordered its military on emergency alert and increased border air surveillance immediately after Pyongyang's official media yesterday announced that the much-reviled Kim Jong-il had died on Saturday, aged 69.
The apparent succession of Kim Jong-un - a "chip off the old block" in both his ideology and personality - threatens to trigger a perilous period for the Korean peninsula, where 1.7 million troops from the two Koreas and the US square off every day.
The White House said the US would keep in close touch with South Korea and Japan, which both have tense relations with Pyongyang.
North Korea's nuclear and missile programs present a real and credible threat to the region - and, potentially, to Australia, Canberra said.
Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, calling for calm, said it was important to focus on the weaponry aligned along North Korea's border with South Korea, which is the largest military-armed zone in the world.
North Korea has long snubbed its nose at global attempts to rein in its nuclear fervour, with reports claiming it has as many as 20 nuclear warheads.
Mr Rudd said: "The critical question lies in the clear communication of these actions to the North Koreans."