North Korea's infamous dictator, Kim Jong Il, will be succeeded by his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, Times Online reports. The 25-year-old is being groomed to take over the nation of 24 million and its "fanatical, nuclear-equipped army of a million men."
Reports from North and South Korea appear to confirm what until now has been only rumour - that Kim Jong Un, the third and youngest son of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, is being lined up to inherit his father's title. It would be the second hereditary succession in the last remaining totalitarian communist dictatorship - and set the scene for a period of extreme instability in one of the world's most unpredictable countries.
Today one of his closest and most hardline generals promised the army's loyalty to the "bloodline" of the senior Mr Kim, a virtual guarantee that one of his children will succeed to the leadership. Meanwhile, the South Korean Yonhap news agency quoted sources in China saying that Jong Un, the youngest of his three sons, will stand in a carefully rigged "election" to the country's tame parliament - the precursor to his public emergence as his father's successor.
Kim Jong Il's apparently poor health, and suspicions that he had a stroke in August, has lead to increased international discussion over who will succeed him, the AP reports.
Jong Un was born to Kim Jong Il's late wife Ko Yong Hi. Ko had another son, Kim Jong Chol, but the father reportedly doesn't favor the middle son as a possible leader.
Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korea specialist at the independent Sejong Institute, said the reported choice of Jong Un seemed to be a feasible scenario.
"Jong Un has leadership (qualities) and a desire to grab power," Cheong told The Associated Press, adding that he thought he was the most qualified of the three sons to lead North Korea, now embroiled in an international standoff over its nuclear program and suffering from widespread food shortages.
According to Kenji Fujimoto, a Japanese who worked as personal sushi chef to Kim Jong Il and knew both the young "princes" well, it was obvious from his childhood that Jong Un would eventually take over from his father. "The older brother, Jong Chul, had the warm heart of a girl," he told The Times last night. "The younger prince, Jong Un was a boy of inner strength."
Who succeeds the "Dear Leader" will have a profound effect on North Korea's future, BBC News reports.
But the identity of Mr Kim's successor will be key in deciding the future direction of the North Korean state - whether it adopts market reforms and a degree of political openness, or attempts to reassert absolute control over all aspects of the economy and populace.
It will fundamentally affect the durability of the North Korean leadership, say analysts.