North Korea leader Kim Jong-un 'appears in public'

BBC News/October 14, 2014

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has made his first public appearance since 3 September, the country's official news agency says.

The KCNA agency said on Tuesday that Mr Kim "gave field guidance" at a newly built scientists' residential district.

Rodong Sinmun daily newspaper carried several photographs of Mr Kim using a walking stick as he inspected the site.

The absence of the 32-year-old leader had prompted a flurry of speculation about his health.

Some observers said Mr Kim could be suffering from gout or problems in his hip joint. Others even questioned if he remained in control of the state.

Analysis: Stephen Evans, BBC News, Seoul

The photographs are still pictures so it's impossible to know how easily Kim Jong-un is walking - did he walk for long, was he standing simply for the photographer?

It's also impossible to tell if the stick in the pictures is an aid because of an untreated continuation of the previous ailment, or to help him after surgery.

What the pictures clearly show, though, is that he is at the centre of power.

One of the acolytes apparently hanging on his every word is Hwang Pyong-so, the general who led a delegation to South Korea 10 days ago. At the time, some of the more feverish speculation had it that this might signify that the military leader was actually in control.

The newly-released pictures indicate that Kim Jong-un remains the top man. It may or may not be significant that the visit was to a residential complex for satellite scientists - the kind of people who work on missile technology.

Official media have cited unspecified personal "discomfort" as grounds for Mr Kim's absence from public view.

On Sunday, North Korea's ambassador to London told the BBC that Mr Kim was in good health.

KCNA said that Mr Kim was briefed on the Wisong Scientists Residential District "before a map showing its bird's-eye view" and that he then "overlooked it".

"Looking over the exterior of the apartment houses and public buildings, decorated with diverse coloured tiles, (Mr Kim) expressed great satisfaction, saying they looked very beautiful," the agency said.

It also said that Mr Kim visited the newly-built Natural Energy Institute of the State Academy of Sciences.

Although the news release was dated Tuesday, it did not specify on which day he made the visits.

Uncle purged

During his absence, Mr Kim missed two high-profile public events - the 10 October anniversary of the establishment of the Korean Worker's Party and the 9 September Foundation Day of the North Korean State.

Analysts said they were two days in the political calendar when the leader would be expected to make an appearance.

Kim Jong-un took office on the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in December 2011 and was quickly named head of the party, state and army.

In 2012 he was appointed marshal - the highest military rank - following a high-level military reshuffle.

Then, in December 2013, Mr Kim purged and executed his uncle, Chang Song-thaek, who state media said had been plotting a coup.

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