After weeks of intense speculation about the health of Kim Jong Un, state news agency Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on Saturday that the North Korean leader attended the completion of a fertiliser plant north of Pyongyang, the first report of his appearance since April 11.
Reuters could not independently verify the KCNA report.
KCNA said Kim cut a ribbon at the ceremony on Friday and those attending the event “burst into thunderous cheers of ‘hurrah!’ for the Supreme Leader…”
Kim was seen in photographs smiling and talking to aides at the ribbon-cutting ceremony and also touring the plant. The authenticity of the photos, published on the website of the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper, could not be verified.
Many in the large crowd of people, described as officials of the army, the ruling party and the community who worked on the project, were wearing face masks and standing some distance from the podium where Kim and his aides took part in the ceremony.
North Korea has not reported any cases of the coronavirus and has said it has been taking tough measures to prevent an outbreak. One reason for Kim’s absence has been the suggestion he may have been taking precautions against coronavirus.
Kim was accompanied by senior North Korean officials, including his younger sister Kim Yo Jong and top aides vice-chairman Pak Pong Ju of the State Affairs Commission and cabinet premier Kim Jae Ryong, KCNA said.
Asked about the KCNA report on Kim, U.S. President Donald Trump said: “I’d rather not comment on it yet.”
“We’ll have something to say about it at the appropriate time,” he told reporters at the White House.
KIM’S MOVEMENTS APPEAR STIFF, JERKY
Speculation about Kim’s health has been rife after he missed the birth anniversary celebrations of state founder Kim Il Sung on April 15. The day is a major holiday in North Korea and Kim as leader usually pays a visit to the mausoleum where his grandfather lies in state.
He last made a public appearance on April 11 attending a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party politburo.
Following his absence from the anniversary, a South Korean news outlet specialising on the North reported that Kim was recovering after undergoing a cardiovascular procedure. A flurry of other unconfirmed reports about his condition and his whereabouts followed.
Officials in South Korea and the United States expressed scepticism about the reports.
State TV footage on Saturday showed Kim’s leg movements appearing stiff and jerky and one of the images showed a green golf cart in the background, similar to one he used in 2014 after a lengthy public absence.
“Preparing desks and chairs on the stage seemed a bit rare for such an outdoor occasion,” Nam Seong-wook, a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University, said of the ceremony.
“Kim might have some physical conditions that prevent him from standing too long and he needs to be seated after standing up for awhile.”
Nam said if Kim is unable to stand for long periods that maybe the reason he did not attend the anniversary event in April at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where he would have had to stand for at least about an hour.