North Korean state media announced on Monday that its leader, Kim Jong Un, was photographed touring a newly built housing complex, marking his first public appearance in over a month.
The photos show Kim walking with a cane, which supports the most plausible theory that Kim sustained an ankle or leg injury that might have required surgery and a subsequent recovery period.
The news was likely meant to quell rumours of serious health issues or a coup in the secretive state. Kim, who is usually eager to be seen out and about at various events, last appeared in public Sept. 3 when he attended a concert with his wife.
His 40-day absence from public was unusually long, leading North Korea observers to speculate that he was no longer in control of the country or was suffering from any number of afflictions, including gout, diabetes, fractured ankles brought on by a cheese addiction, or some sort of leg injury.
Photos released by North Korean state media give the appearance that Kim is back from his temporary absence, but the propaganda agency didn’t say when the photos were taken or when the visit to the housing complex took place.
The Korean Central News Agency story was accompanied by this statement from Kim:
Our scientists are patriots who are devoting all their lives to building a rich and powerful nation, convinced that though there is no frontier in science, they have a socialist motherland and are under the care of the mother party. There is nothing to spare for them. It is necessary to project and treat scientists preferentially and always take care of them.
Here are the photos:
One of the more outlandish theories suggested that ankle fractures brought on by a weight gain from Swiss cheese addiction were the source of Kim’s injury. But a source with access to North Korea’s leadership told Reuters that Kim hurt his leg while overseeing military exercises.
Others theorized that Kim’s sister had taken control of the country or that Kim fell victim to some sort of coup. This is unlikely — political scientists said earlier this year that North Korea’s coup risk was very low, and people have been predicting the downfall of North Korea for decades.
North Korean state TV previously alluded to an illness, saying “Kim is suffering from uncomfortable physical condition,” but did not elaborate on what was ailing him.
An (unofficial) North Korea joke Twitter feed offered this explanation of where Kim has been for the past month:
Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un returns from martial arts training and meditation atop Mount Paektu, to defend people against Japanese aggression
— DPRK News Service (@DPRK_News) October 13, 2014
The new photos of Kim appeared on the front page of North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun.
Sky News’ China correspondent Mark Stone notes that we should be sceptical of the photographs:
[The photos] could be unpublished photos from a previous visit — albeit a recent one, given that he is carrying a walking stick. It is conceivable the photos were taken in the past few months, but not published at the time because Mr Kim didn’t want to appear weak. … The North Korean regime has form in releasing doctored or inaccurate photographs.
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