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KIM JONG II LIKELY IN HOSPITAL, JAPAN REPORTS

Kim Jong Il, North Korea's leader, is probably hospitalized but still capable of making decisions, Japan's prime minister, Taro Aso, said Tuesday.

Citing intelligence reports, Aso said in a parliamentary session that "there are reports he has been hospitalized."

"However, it's not believed that he is completely incapable of making decisions," Aso said, answering an opposition lawmaker's question during a exchange on foreign affairs and defense. If Kim, 66, had been incapable of decisionmaking, Japanese and other intelligence officials believe, "we would be seeing different developments" in North Korea, the prime minister said.

Aso did not provide further details about the North Korean leader's condition.

Kim's health, long a topic of intense speculation outside North Korea, has been the focus of intelligence officials since he failed to attend a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of North Korea last month.

American and other officials said that he had possibly suffered a stroke and was under the care of doctors in Pyongyang, raising fears about instability in the North, a nuclear power.

North Korea has denied that Kim is ill.

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