Kim Jong-un makes an appearance

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was seen on state TV visiting a construction project and walking with a cane. He had not been seen in public since September 3.

South Korean news sources had been saying that Kim was alive, still in power, and was suffering from a leg ailment - perhaps gout. The appearance of Kim with a cane is unprecedented - a sign of weakness that many observers believed a leader of the regime would never show. Some are speculating that it's a gambit to elicit sympathy from the populace.


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, shown using a cane for support, re-appeared in state media on Tuesday after a lengthy public absence that had fueled speculation over his health and grip on power in the secretive, nuclear-capable country.

Several pictures on the front page of the Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed Kim smiling and gesturing on a visit to a housing development, although there was no indication which day the event took place. He was surrounded by aides and wearing his signature dark buttoned suit, and appeared to be supporting himself with a black walking stick.

There have been no official reports on the 31-year-old Kim appearing in public since he attended a concert with his wife on Sept. 3. He missed an important political anniversary on Friday as well as a recent session of the country's parliament.

A story in the official KCNA news agency on two public appearances by Kim was dated Tuesday but also did not specify on which day he made the visits. It also did not mention Kim's health or lengthy absence from public view.

Reuters could not independently verify the reports.

The KCNA report, which was typical of its chronicling of Kim's activities, said he "gave field guidance" to the new Wisong Scientists Residential District and visited the newly built Natural Energy Institute of the State Academy of Sciences.

"Our scientists are patriots who are devoting all their lives to building a rich and powerful nation," Kim was quoted as saying.

In still pictures broadcast by state TV, Kim was often shown seated, once with a cigarette in his hand, while his aides stood. He was also shown in a green multi-seat golf cart, along with several members of his entourage.

Speculation had been building  in the west for weeks about Kim's status. The reason he decided to emerge now is probably due more to local concerns than to appease the curiousity of the international community. In such an insular society with information very compartmentalized, the elites begin to get nervous when anything out of the ordinary occurs. Kim's disappearance was beginning to cauise some tension among the leadership, according to South Korean sources.

Kim's movements will be watched closely over the next few weeks to see if there is any apparent change in his control over the state apparatus. Personnel changes will also be monitored. But for now, you have to assume that Kim is still in charge and that his mystery ailment is what kept him out of the public eye.


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