May 2 (UPI) — A broadly smiling Kim Jong Un appeared in public for the first time in 20 days, looking well without any signs of an illness, despite a wave of speculation that he might be gravely sick or even dead.
Kim’s reappearance underlined the difficulty in figuring out affairs in the communist nation, especially with regard to its leadership, and how easy it is for the outside world to slip into far-fetched speculation in the absence of clear information.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency and the main Rodong Simun newspaper reported Saturday that Kim attended a ceremony marking the completion of Sunchon Phosphatic Fertilizer Factory in Sunchon, north of Pyongyang, the previous day.
It was Kim’s first public appearance since he was last seen in North Korean media during a politburo meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party in April 11.
His absence from an annual event marking the April 15 birth anniversary of his late grandfather and national founder, Kim Il Sung, sparked speculation he might be dead or seriously ill after surgery.
Dismissing such rumors, KCNA on Saturday released several photos of Kim at the factory, dressed in a dark Mao suit and his signature sweptback hairstyle.
Kim showed no apparent signs of illness.
Photos showed him cutting a red ribbon during the ceremony, clapping and talking to the officials accompanying him with a bright smile on his face. He was also seen walking normally around the factory, dismissing rumors and unconfirmed reports suggesting that he is unable to walk or in “grave danger.”
“All the participants broke into thunderous cheers of ‘hurrah!’ extending the greatest glory to the Supreme Leader who has brought about a new change in the development of Juche-based fertilizer industry and has led the grand revolutionary advance for strengthening self-supporting economy to a victory with his outstanding leadership,” KCNA said.
His sister, Kim Yo Jong, who was considered among the most likely to succeed him by several reports should he become incapacitated or die, was seen standing next to the leader.
Other senior officials, including Pak Pong Ju, vice chairman of the WKP’s Central Committee and Premier Kim Jae Ryong, accompanied Kim, according to KCNA. The North’s No. 2 leader Choe Ryong Hae was not among the attendees.
Kim and his officials were not wearing masks.
It is not rare for Kim to disappear from the public eye.
After his appearance at a concert in Pyongyang celebrating Lunar New Year’s Day on Jan. 25, he was absent for three weeks until state media reported his visit to a mausoleum in Pyongyang to commemorate the birthday of his late father on Feb. 16.
His longest absence from public view was in September 2014, when he disappeared for 40 days and returned limping. Seoul’s intelligence agency later said that he had a cyst removed from his ankle.