SEOUL // North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has finally resurfaced with the help of a walking stick after a prolonged, unexplained absence that fuelled rampant speculation about his health and even rumours of a coup in the nuclear-armed state.
Mr Kim, who had not been seen in public for nearly six weeks, made an inspection tour of a newly-built housing complex in Pyongyang and a science institute, reported state media on Tuesday.
The front page of the ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun was mostly taken up with a large close-up portrait of the smiling leader, photographed from the waist upwards.
The daily carried smaller, full-length photos showing him leaning on a black walking stick as he toured the residential complex built for scientists working on North Korea’s satellite programme.
The visit was also reported by state television, using the same pictures and without any video footage, making it impossible to judge just how mobile Mr Kim was.
“Looking over the exterior of the apartment houses and public buildings, decorated with diverse coloured tiles, [Kim] expressed great satisfaction, saying they looked very beautiful,” the official KCNA news agency said.
KCNA did not specify the date of the visit, but the agency usually reports such events the day after.
It also made no mention of Mr Kim’s absence from the public eye and offered no insight into his physical well-being.
Mr Kim, believed to be 30 or 31, was not seen in public after attending a music concert with his wife in Pyongyang on September 3.
While there is precedent for a North Korean leader to “disappear” for a while, the absence was more noticeable with Mr Kim, who has maintained a particularly pervasive media presence since coming to power after the death of his father Kim Jong-il in late 2011.
Competing theories on his disappearance ranged widely from an extended rest period to a leadership coup, via a long list of possible illnesses and ailments including broken ankles, gout and diabetes.
The rumours multiplied after he failed to attend a major political anniversary event on Friday, at which other top leaders were present.
The only North Korean mention of a possible health problem came in a state TV documentary several weeks ago which spoke of Mr Kim’s “discomfort”.
A heavy smoker, the leader has shown striking weight gain since coming to power. Recent TV footage had shown him walking with a pronounced limp.* Agence France-Presse