Kim Jong-un reappears after weeks of absence – state media
North Korean leader reportedly attends event after speculation about health
After weeks of intense speculation about the health of Kim Jong-un, state news agency KCNA said on Saturday the North Korean leader attended the completion of a fertilisers plant north of Pyongyang, the first report of his appearance since April 11th.
Reuters could not independently verify the KCNA report.
KCNA said Mr Kim cut a ribbon at the ceremony on Friday and those attending the event “burst into thunderous cheers of ‘hurrah!’ for the Supreme Leader...”
Mr Kim was seen in photographs smiling and talking to aides at the ribbon-cutting ceremony and also touring the plant. The authenticity of the photos, published on the website of the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper, could not be verified.
Many in the large crowd of people, described as officials of the army, the ruling party and the community who worked on the project, were wearing face masks and standing some distance from the podium where Mr Kim and his aides took part in the ceremony.
North Korea has not reported any cases of the coronavirus and has said it has been taking tough measures to prevent an outbreak. One reason for Mr Kim’s absence has been the suggestion he may have been taking precautions against coronavirus.
Mr Kim was accompanied by senior North Korean officials, including his younger sister Kim Yojong and top aides vice-chairman Pak Pong-ju of the State Affairs Commission and cabinet premier Kim Jae-ryong, and KCNA said.
Asked about the KCNA report on Mr Kim, US president Donald Trump said: “I’d rather not comment on it yet.”
“We’ll have something to say about it at the appropriate time,” he told reporters at the White House.
Speculation about Mr Kim’s health has been rife after he missed the birth anniversary celebrations of state founder Kim Il-sung on April 15th. The day is a major holiday in North Korea and Mr Kim as leader usually pays a visit to the mausoleum where his grandfather lies in state.
He last made a public appearance on April 11th attending a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party politburo.
Following his absence from the anniversary, a South Korean news outlet specialising on the North reported that Kim was recovering after undergoing a cardiovascular procedure. A flurry of other unconfirmed reports about his condition and his whereabouts followed.
State TV footage on Saturday showed Mr Kim’s leg movements appearing stiff and jerky and one of the images showed a green golf cart in the background, similar to one he used in 2014 after a lengthy public absence.
“Preparing desks and chairs on the stage seemed a bit rare for such an outdoor occasion,” Nam Seong-wook, a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University, said of the ceremony.
“Kim might have some physical conditions that prevent him from standing too long and he needs to be seated after standing up for awhile.”
Prof Nam said if Mr Kim is unable to stand for long periods that maybe the reason he did not attend the anniversary event in April at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where he would have had to stand for at least about an hour.
The city of Sunchon where the fertiliser factory was built is about 50km (30 miles) north of Pyongyang in the western region, away from Wonsan, the eastern coastal resort where South Korean and US officials have said Mr Kim may have been staying.
Satellite images showing a train usually used by Mr Kim near the Wonsan resort, as well as boats often used by Mr Kim and his entourage, suggested he may be staying there.
Officials in South Korea and the United States have said Mr Kim may be there to avoid exposure to the coronavirus, and have expressed scepticism about media reports that he had some kind of serious illness.–Reuters