North Korea’s Kim Jong Un reappears in public with cane

2014-10-14 08:48

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Seoul – North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, smiling broadly and supporting himself with a cane, appeared in state media for the first time in nearly six weeks, ending an absence that fed global speculation that something was amiss with the country’s most powerful person.

The sudden resumption of the “field guidance” tours that had been a regular part of Kim’s public persona before he stopped showing up in media reports for 40 days allowed the country’s massive propaganda apparatus to continue doing what it does best – glorifying the third generation of Kim family rule. And it will tamp down, at least for the moment, rampant rumours of a coup and serious health problems.

Kim, while touring the newly built Wisong Scientists Residential District and another new institute in Pyongyang, “took necessary steps with loving care”, a dispatch early today from the official Korean Central News Agency said in typical fawning style. The North didn’t say when the visit happened, nor did it address the leader’s health.

The recent absence was, in part, “probably an attention-getting device and it certainly works,” Bruce Cumings, an expert on Korea at the University of Chicago, said.

“The North has been on a diplomatic offensive in Europe and elsewhere. It feels isolated and is, if we’re talking about relations with Washington. All this puts them back on the front page.”

Before today’s dispatch, Kim had last been seen publicly at a September 3 concert.

Foreign media had no trouble filling the void that followed. From “Saturday Night Live” spoofs to the wild theories of journalists across the globe trying to parse his growing absence from the public eye, Kim captured nearly as many headlines as he did when he threatened to nuke his enemies last year.

And while there was plenty of informed analysis from experts and frequent visitors to Pyongyang that said it probably wasn’t anything that serious, there seemed to be even more thinly sourced speculation.

Kim was, by turns, reported to be suffering from gout, from diabetes, from a brain haemorrhage, from a heart ailment, from a leg injury that required surgery from a French doctor, from mental illness or, according to a head-turning British report, from a cheese addiction. There were rumours of a coup.

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