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North Korea

North Korea's Kim Jong Un makes first public appearance in 3 weeks

After weeks of rumours that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was seriously ill or even dead, state media published photos showing him in public on 2 May, 2020.
After weeks of rumours that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was seriously ill or even dead, state media published photos showing him in public on 2 May, 2020. © KCNA VIA KNS/AFP
3 min

North Korea's Kim Jong Un has made his first public appearance in nearly three weeks, state media reported Saturday, following intense speculation that he was seriously ill or possibly dead.

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State television showed Kim Jong Un walking, smiling broadly and smoking a cigarette at what the North said was the opening of a fertiliser factory on Friday in Sunchon, north of Pyongyang.

Footage showed Kim in his trademark black suit, waving to hundreds of workers who cheered his appearance and released balloons.

Rumours

Rumours about Kim's health have been swirling since his conspicuous no-show at April 15 celebrations for the birthday of his grandfather, the North's founder -- the most important day in the country's political calendar.

His absence triggered a series of rumours and unconfirmed reports over his condition, while the United States and South Korea insisted they had no information to believe any of the conjecture was true.

The North Korean leader had not made a public appearance since presiding over a Workers' Party politburo meeting on April 11, and the following day state media reported that he had inspected fighter jets.

Daily NK, an online media outlet run mostly by North Korean defectors, had reported that Kim was undergoing treatment after a cardiovascular procedure last month.

Citing an unidentified source inside the country, it said Kim -- who is in his mid-30s -- had needed urgent treatment due to heavy smoking, obesity and fatigue.

CNN then reported that Washington was "monitoring intelligence" that Kim was in "grave danger" after undergoing surgery, quoting an anonymous US official.

Secrecy around leader's health

Officials in Seoul had consistently downplayed the reports and a presidential security advisor said that Kim was "alive and well" and staying in the eastern resort town of Wonsan.

Analysts say Kim is likely to make another public appearance in the coming days that will be reported by state media.

But Pyongyang "probably won't explain Kim's recent absence given the secrecy around the leader's health and schedule," said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha University in Seoul.

Kim's father and predecessor had been dead for two days before anyone outside the innermost circles of North Korean leadership was aware.

In 2014, Kim Jong Un dropped out of sight for nearly six weeks before reappearing with a cane. Days later, the South's spy agency said he had undergone surgery to remove a cyst from his ankle.

(with AFP)

 

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