North Korea has launched patriotic celebrations for its leader’s 67th birthday, amid continuing rumours of his failing health. Some reports claim Kim Jong-Il suffered a stroke, or worse, last summer. There was no sign of him at a parade in Pyongyang, raising further doubts over the future. Kim was nominated as North Korea’s leader 20 years before his father Kim Il-Sung died in 1994, but Kim has not made similar preparations.
Instead, the regime said it would press on with its missile programme, dampening hopes it might give up its nuclear ambitions. However, Pyongyang said its aim now was to join the space race. Tension remains high as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits the region. North Korea continues work on a long-range missile; it is supposed to be able to reach Alaska, but has never flown successfully.