(SEOUL, South Korea) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made his first public appearance in 20 days as he celebrated the completion of a fertilizer factory near Pyongyang, state media said Saturday, ending an absence that had triggered global rumors that he was seriously ill.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Kim attended the ceremony Friday in Suncheon with other senior officials, including his sister, Kim Yo Jong, who many analysts predict would take over if her brother is suddenly unable to rule.
Neither the KCNA nor the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper immediately released photos online from the ceremony.
It was Kim’s first public appearance since April 11, when he presided over a ruling Workers’ Party meeting to discuss the coronavirus and reappoint his sister as an alternate member of the powerful decision-making political bureau of the party’s central committee. That move confirmed her substantial role in the government.
Speculation about his health swirled after he missed the April 15 birthday celebration for his late grandfather Kim Il Sung, the country’s most important holiday, for the first time since taking power in 2011.
Without publishing images, state media reported he was carrying out routine activities outside public view, such as sending greetings to the leaders of Syria, Cuba and South Africa and expressing gratitude to workers building tourist facilities in the coastal town of Wonsan, where some speculated he was staying.
South Korea’s government, which has a mixed record of tracking Pyongyang’s ruling elite, repeatedly downplayed speculation that Kim, believed to be 36, was in poor health following surgery.
The office of President Moon Jae-in said it detected no unusual signs in North Korea or any emergency reaction by the country’s ruling party, military and cabinet. It said it believed Kim was still managing state affairs but staying at an unspecified location outside Pyongyang.
It wasn’t immediately clear what caused Kim’s absence in past weeks. In 2014, Kim vanished from the public eye for nearly six weeks and then reappeared with a cane. South Korea’s spy agency said he had a cyst removed from his ankle.