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Kim Jong Un appears in public after weeks of health rumors, state media reports

North Korean leader reportedly attends ceremony for the opening of a fertilizer factory following speculation he was ill or incapacitated

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, visits a fertilizer factory in South Pyongan, near Pyongyang, North Korea, May 1, 2020. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, visits a fertilizer factory in South Pyongan, near Pyongyang, North Korea, May 1, 2020. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made his first public appearance since speculation about his health began last month, cutting the ribbon at the opening of a fertilizer factory, North Korea’s state news agency reported on Saturday.

Kim “attended the ceremony” on Friday and “all the participants broke into thunderous cheers of ‘hurrah!'” when he appeared, the Korean Central News Agency said.

He also inspected the facility and was “briefed about the production processes,” the report said.

Kim “said with deep emotion” that his grandfather Kim Il Sung and father Kim Jong Il “would be greatly pleased if they heard the news that the modern phosphatic fertilizer factory has been built,” the report said.

Kim has not made a public appearance since presiding over a Workers’ Party politburo meeting on April 11, and the following day state media reported on him inspecting fighter jets at an air defense unit.

Conjecture over his health had grown since his conspicuous no-show at April 15 celebrations for the birthday of his grandfather Kim Il Sung, the North’s founder — the most important day in the country’s political calendar.

A top security adviser to South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said less than a week ago that Kim was “alive and well,” downplaying rumors that he was ill or incapacitated.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, cuts a tape during his visit to a fertilizer factory in South Pyongan, near Pyongyang, North Korea, May 1, 2020. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

The advisor, Moon Chung-in, told CNN that Kim had been staying in Wonsan — a resort town in the east of North Korea — since April 13, adding: “No suspicious movements have so far been detected.”

Daily NK, an online media outlet run mostly by North Korean defectors, has reported Kim was undergoing treatment after a cardiovascular procedure last month.

Citing an unidentified source inside the country, it said Kim, who is in his mid-30s, had needed urgent treatment due to heavy smoking, obesity and fatigue.

Soon afterwards, CNN reported that Washington was “monitoring intelligence” that Kim was in “grave danger” after undergoing surgery, quoting what it said was an anonymous US official.

US President Donald Trump appeared to confirm that Kim was alive earlier this week.

Trump refused to comment Friday on Kim’s reported re-emergence.

Previous absences from the public eye on Kim’s part have prompted speculation about his health.

The North is extremely secretive, and doubly so about its leadership.

Kim’s father and predecessor Kim Jong Il had been dead for two days before anyone outside the innermost circles of North Korean leadership knew.

In 2014, Kim Jong Un dropped out of sight for nearly six weeks before reappearing with a cane.

Days later, the South’s spy agency said he had undergone surgery to remove a cyst from his ankle.

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