Top North Korean defector dies at 87

SEOUL, South Korea — He was the intellectual force behind the philosophy of self-reliance that guided North Korea and a top official in the Workers' Party that still rules the communist nation.

He graduated from the elite university named for North Korean founder Kim Il Sung and was personally close to Kim himself. He tutored Kim's son, Kim Jong Il, who rose to become the peculiar, deified leader of the isolated state.

Then, in 1997, during a visit to China, Hwang Jang Yop sought asylum with South Korea — triggering a five-week diplomatic standoff and earning him scorn from the regime back home in North Korea and the epithet "human scum" in its media.

Safely in South Korea, he spoke about the danger posed not just to the Korean peninsula but to the world by the dictatorship in the North and said trying to persuade the North to give up its nuclear ambition was hopeless so long as Kim was in power.

Hwang's naked body was found Sunday morning in a bathtub at his home in Seoul, the South Korean capital, police said. Foul play was not initially suspected, but an autopsy was planned. Hwang was 87.

His death came as North Korea held a massive military parade to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the foundation of the Workers' Party. Kim Jong Il and his son, heir apparent Kim Jong Un, watched as armored trucks and tanks rolled by.

Since his defection, Hwang had lived in Seoul under tight police security amid fears that North Korean agents might try to take revenge. He wrote books and delivered speeches condemning Kim's government as authoritarian.

Two North Korean army majors were sentenced to prison in South Korea in July for plotting to assassinate him. North Korea has denied the plot, accusing South Korea of staging it to intensify sentiment against the North.

Top North Korean defector dies at 87 10/10/10 [Last modified: Sunday, October 10, 2010 10:23pm]

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