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Asia stocks lower amid news of Kim Jong Il death

By Elaine Kurtenbach
AP Business Writer / December 18, 2011
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SHANGHAI—Asian stock markets slid Monday amid news that the mercurial leader of nuclear-armed North Korea has died, raising fears of increased political instability in the region.

South Korea's Kospi index dived 4.1 percent to 1,765.15. Japan's Nikkei 225 index was down 1.1 percent at 8,304.47, Hong Kong's Hang Seng slid 2.5 percent to 17,833.42 and the Shanghai Composite Index fell 2.6 percent to 2,167.68.

Kim Jong Il's death was announced Monday by the state television from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. It raises the possibility of increased instability on the divided Korean peninsula as the reclusive regime undergoes a leadership succession.

Kim, who had been ailing after suffering what is thought to have been a stroke in 2008, died at age 69 on Saturday.

Kim had presented his third son, the twenty-something Kim Jong Un, as his hereditary successor, putting him in high-ranking posts. But even with an apparent successor, some North Korean observers fear a behind-the-scenes power struggle or nuclear instability.

South Korea put its military on "high alert" and President Lee Myung-bak convened a national security council meeting after the news of Kim's death.

Markets in Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia also fell.

"Particularly with the bearish market sentiment now, any negative news will make the market much more gloomy," said Kwong Man Bun, chief operating officer at KGI Securities in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong benchmark dipped 100 points after the news hit which "reflects concern over potential political instability," he said.

Kim's death overshadowed what already was a gloomy start to the week as jitters about Europe's debt crisis weighed on sentiment. Fitch Ratings said late last week it could downgrade the credit ratings of six European countries -- heavyweights Italy and Spain, as well as Belgium, Cyprus, Ireland and Slovenia.

Meanwhile, Moody's Investors Services downgraded Belgium's credit rating and Ireland released data showing its economy is in worse shape than expected, with third-quarter GDP falling 1.9 percent.

Coming just a week after EU leaders struck a deal they thought would contain the continent's debt crisis, the onslaught of negative news shredded hopes of a lasting solution to the turmoil that is endangering the euro -- the currency used by 17 European nations -- and threatening the entire global economy.

"Everyone is waiting to see what comes from the next conference of European nations. Hopefully something good," said Jackson Wong of Tanrich Securities, in Hong Kong.

Chinese markets fell Monday after rebounding at the end of last week on speculation that the government might further ease reserve requirements for banks to help increase the amount of money available for lending to support growth.

"Everything came up empty" over the weekend, Wong said. "We are giving back the gains we had Friday."

Benchmark oil was down 56 cents at $92.97 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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