TOKYO -- Kim Il Sung, North Korea's leader since 1948 and the man who launched the Korean War, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, died at 2 a.m. yesterday at the age of 82, Pyongyang Radio said today.
The Korean Central News Agency, the country's official mouthpiece, issued a seven-page announcement of Mr. Kim's death shortly after noon today. The obituary said that he would be remembered as a man capable of "creating something from nothing." Mr. Kim, who is revered throughout the country as the "Great Leader," is reported to have collapsed with a heart attack sometime Thursday.
It said his son and heir apparent, Kim Jong Il, would direct the funeral of his father.
Mr. Kim was last seen, apparently healthy, during a two-day meeting with President Jimmy Carter at which he agreed to freeze North Korea's nuclear program in return for restarting high-level talks with the United States over an end to the %J country's five-decade-long isolation.
Mr. Carter said on Wednesday that Kim told him at the time that he planned to "remain active for the next 10 years."
The renewed talks with the North, after a year of brinkmanship that seemed for a while to be veering toward a new confrontation between North Korea and the West, began in Geneva yesterday.
The meeting was reported by both sides to have gone well. North Korea's negotiators gave no indication they knew of Mr. Kim's death.
Mr. Kim was also scheduled to conduct a first summit meeting withSouth Korea's President, Kim Young Sam, in Pyongyang, the North's capital, on July 25. It would have been the first such summit since the division of the Korean Peninsula.
For half a century, North Korea has been essentially a family business headed by Mr. Kim, whose image is captured in monuments in every town and who is credited, in the national mythology and in song, with the country's creation and development.
His cult of personality is everywhere, celebrated in "mass games" run on his birthday that involve hundreds of thousands, and in the everyday invocation of his philosophy of "juche" or national self-reliance.
Years ago, in an attempt to create something of a Stalinist dynasty, Mr. Kim designated his son, known as the "Dear Leader," as his successor.
But there have been persistent doubts over whether the younger Mr. Kim, a reclusive and deeply mysterious man who, according to Western intelligence reports may not be mentally stable, would win the confidence of the North Korean military.
Many have speculated that the death of the elder Mr. Kim would touch off a power struggle and perhaps a crumbling of the country's Communist government.
But such a process could take years since Mr. Kim kept the power to himself and was widely regarded as the only man able to make national decisions for the country.
With the nation's economy shrinking several percent a year and its factories grinding to a halt, Mr. Kim's "Paradise on Earth," as his propaganda machine calls it, seems headed toward collapse.
Its nuclear program, which may or may not have already succeeded in producing one or two weapons, has in the past two years become the biggest security crisis in Asia.
Mr. Kim was installed by Joseph Stalin shortly after the end of World War II.
Born on the outskirts of Pyongyang, in a thatch house that is visited daily by thousands of North Koreans, he spent nearly 20 years of his youth in Manchuria, the North Korean border areas and the Soviet Union as a guerrilla fighter against the Japanese.
Shortly after the official creation of the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea in 1948 he consolidated his power.
He launched the Korean War in 1950, in a blitzkrieg attack aimed at uniting the peninsula. It took three years of fighting to reach an armistice.
Ever since the Demilitarized Zone, dividing North and South, has been the most heavily-armed outpost of the Cold War, and 37,000 American troops are still stationed near it.
For years it appeared that his country would be the stronger of the two Koreas: It had all the raw materials and, until the early 1960s, a healthier economy.
But that reversed as the capitalist South, with aid from the United States and Japan, and a population of 40 million surged ahead as a producer of steel, cars and semiconductors.
The North, diplomatically isolated, went into slow decline, increasingly dependent on China and the Soviet Union for oil and critical industrial goods.
With the end of the Cold War, however, Mr. Kim was quickly abandoned by his allies. Russia embraced the South, eager for its aid and its technological help.
China also began relations with Seoul, and Mr. Kim, on his periodic trips to Beijing, was greeted with airport signs for Samsung, the huge South Korean conglomerate.