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Is North Korean leader Kim Jong Un lying low?

Story highlights

  • North Korean state TV says Kim Jong Un is "suffering from discomfort"
  • North Korea's Kim Jong Un does not attend a prominent state meeting
  • Speculations are rampant that Kim has health problems because of his limping
  • KCNA shows that Kim's last public appearance was on September 4
North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un hasn't been seen at a public event for three weeks, including a prominent state meeting that he has attended every year since coming to power in late 2011.
On Thursday, Kim was conspicuously absent from the Supreme People's Assembly, which is North Korea's parliament attended by officials of the party, the military and various national organizations. A prominent seat remained empty on stage surrounded by North Korea's top brass.
"We expected to see him at the Supreme People's Assembly, because he had attended that session every time," said Yoo Ho-Yeol, a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University in Seoul. "So we are speculating that he might have problems in his health."
On Thursday, North Korean state TV referred to Kim, saying, "The wealth and prosperity of our socialism is thanks to the painstaking efforts of our marshal, who keeps lighting the path for the people, like the flicker of a flame, despite suffering from discomfort."
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The 31-year-old leader's absence has fueled speculation that Kim has a health problem, as some observers have pointed to weight gain, as well as a limp when he was seen walking in July.
Korea's state-run news agency, KCNA, routinely catalogs Kim's activities and public appearances. A count of KCNA announcements about Kim's public appearances went from 24 events in July to 16 in August. It dwindled to just one event in September. His last listed public appearance was a September 3 concert, which he attended with his wife Ri Sol Ju, according to KCNA.
While it's difficult to know what's happening in North Korea, the absence of its leader from public view has given hints in the past.
"We had that kind of occasion when Kim Jong Il was seriously sick in 2008," said Yoo.
That year, the elder Kim's absence from parades and national events raised questions about the leader's health. U.S. and South Korean intelligence believed that Kim Jong Il had suffered severe health problems and possibly a stroke.
Kim died at the age of 69, in December 2011, and his son assumed command.