Kim Jong-un 'no show' increases N Korea speculation

  • 10 October 2014
  • From the section Asia
Media captionThe BBC's Steven Evans says South Korea believes that there has not been a coup

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un missed a key political anniversary ceremony, state media said, amid speculation over his absence from public view.

On Friday his name was not on a list of those who visited a mausoleum to mark the ruling party's anniversary.

Mr Kim has not been seen for more than a month, the longest hiatus since he came to power in 2011.

State television last month said he had an "uncomfortable physical condition" and later showed him limping.

On Friday, South Korea said it believed Mr Kim remained in control of the communist state.

"It seems that Kim Jong-un's rule is in normal operation," Unification Ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol was quoted by Yonhap news agency as saying.

"With regard to his specific health conditions, our government has no information to confirm yet," he said.

Health problems?

On Friday North Korean officials visited Kumsusan Palace, a mausoleum for late leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, to mark the 69th anniversary of the Workers' Party.

For the first time in three years, Mr Kim's name was not included in the list.

The young leader, who inherited power after his father Kim Jong-il died in 2011, has not been seen in public since 3 September.

His absence has led to speculation over both his health and his grip on power.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Kim last visited Kumsusan Palace in July to mark the anniversary of the Korean War armistice

Analysis: Steve Evans, BBC News, Seoul

A "no show" by Kim Jong-un increases the feeling that something untoward has happened.

Close watchers of North Korea discount the idea of a palace coup against him by pointing out that there haven't been unusual movements of the military, and that the Supreme Leader continues to be praised by the state media.

On Saturday, North Korean organs credited him with helping the country's athletes do well at the Asian games. He was also said to be the driving force behind the visit by his inner circle to Seoul.

He is probably on his sick bed but with undiminished power.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Hwang (right) spoke to South Korea's Prime Minister Chung Hong-won (left) last week in Seoul

South Korean media outlets, citing unidentified sources, suggest the 31-year-old, who is overweight, has gout.

Adding to speculation about Mr Kim's whereabouts, Reuters correspondent James Pearson tweeted an image of a North Korean newspaper on Friday featuring an image of Kim Jong-il, the now deceased former leader.

"Front page of today's main North Korean paper shows leader Kims pics, but no Kim Jong-Un - to whom it pledges loyalty," said Mr Pearson, who covers North and South Korea.

Appearances by Mr Kim's number two, coupled with recent claims by a former North Korean official, have also led to suggestions that Mr Kim may have been toppled.

Hwang Pyong-so, a top military aide who is considered Mr Kim's number two, has made high-profile appearances.

Mr Hwang led a delegation of North Korean officials to Seoul for the closing ceremony of the Asian Games, in a visit seen as a rare opportunity for high-level talks between the North and South.

None of the speculation can be confirmed.

Mr Hwang's visit, coupled with continued coverage in North Korean state media of Mr Kim's leadership, were cited by the Seoul on Friday as evidence that Mr Kim was still in power.

It is not the first time that Mr Kim has failed to appear in public for an extended period. He spent 21 days out of the public eye in March 2012 and then another 24 in June the same year. In January 2013 he was absent for 18 days.

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