After weeks of conspiracy theories, the North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, resurfaced in public view on Friday, the North’s state news media reported Saturday, controverting three weeks of rumors and unconfirmed reports that he was in grave danger after undergoing heart surgery.
Kim, 36, appeared at a ceremony at a factory in the city of Sunchon, the media outlet reported, with supporting photos from the event. The report is yet to be independently confirmed by any other major news media though.
Kim Jong Un had last appeared publicly on April 11. Speculation about his health, and about who would take over the hermit kingdom should he die, began swirling after the dictator missed the state celebrations of his country’s biggest holiday on April 15. On that day, the North marks the birthday of Kim’s grandfather Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder.
Eagle eyes were quick to spot what looked like a scar on Kim Jon Un’s wrist in the video of him released Saturday by state media.
A US medical professional told NK News that the mark might be a scar from alleged recent cardiovascular procedure — possibly a right radial artery puncture, which is performed to get a blood sample for analysis.
A swirl of international speculation about Kim’s heath started after he reportedly underwent a stent operation in early April. The whispers grew louder when China dispatched medical experts to help treat him.
Kim comes from a family with a history of heart disease — both his dad and granddad died of heart attacks — and he is heavy, tipping the scales at just about 300 pounds but standing only 5 feet, 6 inches. He also chain smokes, burning through four packs a day, The Post reported.
The footage also showed Kim smiling as he walked, talked and smoked at the opening of a fertilizer plant Friday. By his side was his younger sister, Kim Yo-Jong, who experts believe will succeed her brother.
The two didn’t have on face masks, despite the coronavirus pandemic. A sea of onlookers — all masked — cheered wildly.
“All participants again burst into thunderous cheers of ‘hurrah,’” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said in a statement. The outlet usually releases reports of Kim’s public appearances a day after they take place.
News outlets worldwide were careful to describe the pictures as “alleged or purported” since Kim dropped out of sight.
In 2014, he disappeared for a month, stirring speculation of a coup. He surfaced walking with a cane, needing the help after ankle surgery.
This time, Kim’s most noticeable absence was on April 15 when he was a no-show for the birthday celebration for the late Kim Il Sung, his grandfather and the founder of North Korea.
Missing such a big event kicked the rumor mill into high gear.