Kim Jong-Il personally oversaw a rare meeting of North Korea's rubber-stamp parliament early this week, enacting dramatic changes designed to quell anger over a "disastrous revaluation" of currency and consolidate his power — with the ultimate goal of installing his third son, Kim Jong-un, as his successor. (Watch an AP report about North Korea's government reshuffle.) Here's a quick guide to what's going on in Kim's troubled totalitarian state:
What changes did Kim make?
The Supreme People's Assembly "recalled" Prime Minister Kim Yong-Il, a technocrat, and replaced him with political and family insider Choe Yong-rim. The parliament also sacked several economic ministers and elevated intelligence chief Jang Song-taek, Kim Jong-Il's trusted brother-in-law, to the No. 2 spot on the National Defense Commission — a position from which he could effectively manage a transfer of power in the event of Kim Jong-Il's death.
What's behind the changes?
Analysts say the ailing 68-year-old dictator is trying both to make sure his third son, Kim Jong-un, 27, takes over for him when he retires or dies, and repair the economic damage from the currency mess. The ousted prime minister, who apologized for the failed attempt to fight inflation in February (which killed many people's savings and created social chaos), got off easy: Finance chief Pak Nam-gi was reportedly executed in March.
Why can't Kim Jong-un just take over now?
At 27, he's considered too young to take over a government dominated by old men, and Kim Jong-Il reportedly wants his country to be a "prosperous" (declared) nuclear power before his son takes the reins in 2012. If Kim Jong-Il dies before his son is deemed ready, Jang, 64, is expected to head a caretaker government. To complicate matters, another close supporter of Kim Jong-Il and senior official, Ri Je-gang, recently died in a car accident that some speculate was actually a murder designed shift power to Army Gen. O Kuk-ryol.
Will North Koreans be affected by the shakeup?
The move to replace technocrats with Workers' Party insiders indicates a shift away from tolerance of black markets that have sprung up since the 1990s, and a return to central government control, analysts say. The technocrats had apparently pushed for a shift to a China-style limited embrace of capitalism, but the nominally underground private markets had brought not just wealth into the country, but also outside information, threatening Kim's power.
Does this have anything to do with the torpedoed South Korean ship?
There doesn't seem to be a direct connection, but some analysts see the sinking of South Korean naval ship the Cheonan as part of Kim's larger push to unite the country before he hands over power.