London, Sept.15 : With North Korean leader Kim Jong Il reportedly suffering a second stroke, which has left him debilitated, unconfirmed rumors coming out of Pyong Yang suggest that a battle for succession has begun.
According to The Times, talk in Asia is turning to the odd cast of characters who may succeed him.
The inner workings of the Kim dynasty suggest that wives, concubines, blood brothers and old comrades are rising and falling with increasing regularity and drama.
One son is a confirmed gambler, another is rumored to be effeminate and practically nothing is known about the third.
North Korean generals, according to outsiders, are likely to form some sort of authoritarian collective leadership to replace the 'Dear Leader' when he goes.
The Times, however, says that Kim's departure may still be far off.
In practical terms the South Korean and Japanese intelligence services believe North Korea has functioned for some time as a state governed by a tightly knit group.
Though most countries in and around North Korea desire the end of one-man rule, but after half a century of dynastic rule by the Kim clan - whose veneration as near-deities is enshrined in what amounts to a state cult - the new regime may feel it needs a figurehead.
"Kim Jong Il relies most heavily on his eldest son" claimed Pyon Jin Il, the editor of the Korea Report, a magazine based in Japan.
"He is eventually likely to be named the successor after running the state jointly with other leaders," he told the Nikkan Gendai evening paper.
Kim Yong Nam, 38, the son in question, is well known to Japanese newspaper readers.
In 2001 he was detained at Tokyo airport while trying to enter the country on a forged Dominican passport in the name of Pang Xiong. He got more media coverage last year when reporters photographed him in the gambling enclave of Macau, a former Portuguese colony in China, entering casinos and expensive restaurants.
There is a different set of presentational issues over the other contender.
He is Kim Jong Chol, a slender young man now aged about 27 who was last heard of working in the agitation and propaganda department of the Korea Workers Party - the same job that started his father's ascent.
Last week the Korea Report editor recommended keeping watch to see whether Kim appeared in public on September 14, a date known as "autumn evening" when Koreans believe the ancestors return to earth to visit loved ones and families.