North Korea's Kim god at home, villain abroad

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SEOUL, Sep 30 (Reuters) Vilified, ridiculed and feeling threatened by the outside world, at home North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong-il basks in praise as a man of god-like wisdom and talents.

This week he hosts only the second summit between the rival Korean states, which comes hard on the heels of international efforts to persuade him to give up his nuclear arsenal.

Dubbed ''Dear Leader'' by the domestic media he controls, Kim, 65, inherited one of the world's most secretive states in 1994 on the death of his father, founding president Kim Il-sung, creating the first communist dynasty.

Officially, he was born at a secret anti-Japanese guerrilla camp near Paektu-san, a mountain on the border with China now revered as a place of pilgrimage. Analysts say it is more likely his birthplace was in the Soviet Union where his father was being trained with other Korean exiles.

Since taking the helm he has, by most accounts, successfully built an unchallenged position of power despite presiding over the communist state's deepening decline into poverty, mass starvation in the 1990s and heavy dependency on foreign aid in a country where the state doctrine is self-reliance.

Kim's many titles put him atop North Korea's main power centres, notably the military, but he is not state president.

In the cult of personality that dominates North Korea, that role was posthumously handed to his father for eternity.

North Korea's propaganda machine paints the head of the world's only communist dynasty as a man of rare ability.

Kim junior has piloted jet fighters, penned operas, has a photographic memory, and even struck 11 holes-in-one in the first round of golf he ever played.

The official North Korean news agency regularly reports his trips to the countryside to give guidance ranging from how to raise rabbits to how best to make shoes.

He is also well-known for his fascination with films -- directing several himself and even kidnapping a director and actress from South Korea to help out.

But abroad, where he is the butt of jokes about his bouffant hair-do, built-up shoes and ill-fitting jump suits, the diminutive Kim is widely accused of trampling on human rights and threatening the world with his nuclear weapons ambitions.

In the 1980s, before becoming leader, he is believed to have masterminded the assassination of 17 top South Korean officials during a visit to Myanmar, then Burma, and the mid-air bombing of a Korean Airlines plane in which 115 were killed.

His own health is the subject of constant speculation centring on a suspected ailing heart and illnesses related to his fondness for fine wine and brandy.

Outsiders who have met him say he is clever, entertaining, very well aware of what is going on in the outside world and a master at using what little leverage his impoverished state can muster -- largely through the threat of atomic weapons and one of the world's largest standing armies.

Kim has travelled widely at home, official reports say, but rarely ventures abroad and even then only by private train.

His greatest day on the world stage may well have been June 15, 2000 when he hosted the first ever inter-Korean summit with the South's then-president, Kim Dae-jung.

There followed a growing but short-lived rapport with the West, soon dashed with the arrival of George W Bush at the White House in early 2001.

The following year, already icy ties worsened when Washington accused North Korea of violating an earlier agreement to freeze its development of nuclear weapons. Five years later, US and North Korean envoys are still haggling over ways of ending Kim's nuclear ambitions.

Kim Jong-il reportedly told visitors that he wanted to meet the dying wish of his father to see the Korean peninsula free of atomic weapons, but he first wanted to see the United States treat his state with respect.

REUTERS SZ RK1130

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