North Korean state media published pictures Saturday of leader Kim Jong Un making his first public appearance in nearly three weeks, following intense speculation that he was seriously ill or possibly dead.
The images from the Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed Kim attending a ceremony at a fertiliser factory on Friday in Sunchon, near the capital Pyongyang, along with other senior officials including his sister and close adviser Kim Yo Jong.
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 fevered 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.
His sudden death would have left Pyongyang facing an unplanned succession for the first time in its history and raised unanswered questions over who would succeed him and take over the North’s nuclear arsenal.
The Korean Central news agency said that onlookers “broke into thunderous cheers of ‘hurrah!'” when Kim appeared.
The pictures released by the Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed Kim in his trademark black suit, smiling broadly as he looked around the factory.
As with previous pictures released by the North during the global coronavirus pandemic, Kim was not wearing a mask, unlike the hundreds of workers cheering for him and releasing balloons.
Analysts said Kim could not appear in public wearing a mask as it would make him appear vulnerable to the North Korean people. -AFP