North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is believed to prepare to leave China for home following a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, South Korean media reported Saturday. The secretive North Korean leader is on his third day of a visit to China, which observers believe is related to Kim’s succession plans for the regime in Pyongyang. Mr. Kim’s 30—vehicle convoy left the Nanhu Hotel in the north—eastern city of Changchun on Saturday with unknown destination, the Yonhap news agency reported, quoting witnesses. He is believed to visit a nearby agricultural university and then return home, the report said. Observers were speculating on the purpose of the trip because it is the first time Mr. Kim, who was in Beijing in May, has visited China twice in one year.

It was thought that 68—year—old Kim, who is said to have suffered a stroke in 2008, was preparing to hand power to his third and youngest son.

Mr. Kim was believed to have met Mr. Hu Friday in Changchun, hoping to win the approval of Beijing, North Korea’s main political and economic supporter, for the succession of Kim Jong Un, about whom little is known other than he is thought to be in his 20s. South Korean officials said he might have accompanied his father on the visit. Yonhap quoted an official in Seoul as saying that his government had intelligence that Mr. Kim and Mr. Hu met on Friday. Mr. Hu was reported to have travelled to the region for a vacation. Mr. Kim was also believed to have discussed economic aid for the impoverished Stalinist state. His trip to China was confirmed by neither Pyongyang nor Beijing, but previous visits have been announced only once they are over, reportedly out of security concerns.

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter arrived back in the United States Friday together with an American man who had been imprisoned in North Korea since the beginning of the year.

Mr. Carter had flown to Pyongyang on Wednesday to lobby for the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, 30, who was arrested in January and sentenced in April to eight years of hard labour for illegally entering North Korea from China. North Korea said the release was made on humanitarian grounds.

During his visit, Mr. Carter met with North Korea’s number two leader, Kim Yong Nam, and reportedly held talks on North Korea’s disputed nuclear programme.

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