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Japan: NKoreas Kim probably remains hospitalized
South Korea Koreas 5321472
South Korean protesters burn defaced portraits of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, bottom, and Kim Man-bok, former head of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), during a rally against NIS's pro-North Korea policy near its headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2008. Kim Sung-ho, head of the NIS, Tuesday said that North Korean leader Kim's health appears to have improved. - photo by Associated Press
    SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Il appears to have recovered enough from a stroke to run the country without difficulty, South Korea’s spy chief said Tuesday, but Japan’s prime minister said he likely is issuing orders from a hospital bed.
    Prime Minister Taro Aso told lawmakers in Tokyo that his government had information that Kim likely remains hospitalized.
    ‘‘His condition is not so good. However, I don’t think he is totally incapable of making decisions,’’ Aso said.
    The head of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, Kim Sung-ho, told lawmakers in Seoul that the North Korean leader is ‘‘not physically perfect’’ but appears to remain in command.
    South Korean and U.S. officials say Kim, 66, suffered a stroke, reportedly in August. North Korea has strenuously denied there is anything wrong him.
    On Tuesday, North Korea’s military warned the South to stop its ‘‘smear’’ campaign designed to discredit Kim and the Stalinist nation, threatening to reduce the country to rubble.
    ‘‘The puppet authorities had better remember that the advanced pre-emptive strike of our own style will reduce everything opposed to the nation and reunification to debris,’’ the North’s military said in a statement.
    The threat comes a day after North Korea demanded during brief talks at the Demilitarized Zone that South Korea stop activists from sending balloons filled with anti-Kim leaflets across the border. The South Korean government says it cannot prohibit them, citing freedom of speech.
    The North also criticized remarks earlier this month by South Korea’s Gen. Kim Tae-young, who told parliament that the military was prepared to attack suspected nuclear sites if the North tries to use its atomic weapons on the South.
    Tensions on the divided Korean peninsula have been high for months with Pyongyang embroiled in an international standoff over its nuclear program and concerns mounting over the North Korean leader’s health.
    Kim disappeared from public sight in mid-August, missing a September military parade commemorating the 60th anniversary of the country’s founding and sparking rumors about his health.
    Kim, who inherited his country’s leadership after his father’s death in 1994, has allowed no opposition and has named no known successors, leading to concerns of a power vacuum or military scramble for leadership should he die.
    North Korea has sought in recent weeks to tamp down rumors about Kim’s health with news reports and footage portraying the leader as active and able, attending soccer games and inspecting military units. The reports, photos and video are undated.
    Mercurial and reclusive, Kim has been known to stay out of public sight when tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program are high.
    He disappeared around the time the regime stopped disabling a reprocessing plant at Yongbyon in violation of a disarmament-for-aid deal over Washington’s refusal to remove it from a list of nations that sponsor terrorism.
    After a flurry of negotiations, Washington removed North Korea from the list and Pyongyang ended its boycott of the accord.
    On Tuesday, the NIS said a North Korean soldier defected to the South through the heavily fortified DMZ — only the second such defection in a decade.
    More than 14,300 North Koreans have arrived in the South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry. Most travel through China and Southeast Asia before landing in South Korea.