North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has died at the age of 69, state-run television has announced. Kim, who has led the communist nation since the death of his father in 1994, died on a train while visiting an area outside the capital, the BBC reports.
Kim is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008 but appeared relatively vigorous in photos and video from recent trips to China and Russia and in numerous trips around the country carefully documented by state media.
The leader, reputed to have had a taste for cigars, cognac and gourmet cuisine, was believed to have had diabetes and heart disease.
The news came as North Korea prepared for a hereditary succession. Kim Jong Il inherited power after his father, revered North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, died in 1994.
In September 2010, Kim Jong Il unveiled his third son, the twenty something Kim Jong Un, as his successor, putting him in high-ranking posts.
South Korea says its military has been put on alert following the announcement and its National Security Council is convening for an emergency meeting, Yonhap news agency reports.
Image: North Korean leader Kim Jong-il makes a surprise appearance at Sunan airport outside Pyongyang in this file photo | Photograph: Reuters