North Korea became the first Communist country to transfer government power within a family dynasty on Saturday, as it anointed Marshal Kim Jong Il as its "Great Leader" and head of an expanded National Defense Commission.

In effect, Kim, the eldest son of former "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung, who died four years ago, will govern in much the style of an ancient Korean king, ruling absolutely and inheriting legitimacy not from institutions but from the bloodline of the previous ruler.Saturday's announcement did not specify what would happen to the presidency, but there have been reports that it will be abolished and the position held forever by Kim's late father.

If North Korea is one of the most perplexing of nations, Kim Jong Il is among the most mysterious of leaders. Intelligence experts believe that he may have several nuclear weapons, making him the least understood of any leader with a finger on a nuclear trigger.

Some analysts see him as a maniac, noting that he has been accused of kidnapping a South Korean actor-and-actress couple whose work he admired, of planning the bombing of the South Korean Cabinet in 1983 and of plotting the bombing of a civilian South Korean airliner in 1987.