Kim Jong-un reappears in public amid health speculations

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By Alessio Dellanna  & AP
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un cuts a tape during a visit to a fertilizer factory in Sunchon, near Pyongyang.  May 1, 2020.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un cuts a tape during a visit to a fertilizer factory in Sunchon, near Pyongyang. May 1, 2020.   -  Copyright  Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made his first public appearance in 20 days, ending an absence that had triggered global rumours he may be seriously ill.

He inaugurated a fertilizer factory near Pyongyang yesterday, North Korean state media reported.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said that Kim attended the ceremony with other senior officials.

His sister Kim Yo Jong - who many analysts predict would take over if her brother is suddenly unable to rule - was present too.

State media showed videos and photos of Kim smiling, walking around facilities and speaking with other officials.

There was no apparent sign of Kim being in discomfort.

The visit was confirmed by South Korea’s Unification Ministry.

How did health speculations start?

It wasn’t immediately clear what had caused Kim’s absence.

Before his public absence started, the North Korean leader presided over a ruling Workers’ Party meeting on April 11, where he is reported to have discussed coronavirus and reappointed his sister as an alternate member of the powerful decision-making Political Bureau of the party’s Central Committee.

Speculations 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.

Speaking to reporters at the White House on Apri 27, US President Donald Trump declined to comment about Kim, but said he would have something to say about it at the appropriate time.

South Korea’s government repeatedly downplayed speculation the North Korean leader was in poor health.

The country's Unification Ministry also called for discretion on information related to North Korea, saying that the “groundless” rumours during the past weeks caused “unnecessary confusion and cost” for South Korea’s society and financial markets.

What's the current state of North Korea-US relations?

Following missile and nuclear tests in 2017, Kim used the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea to improve foreign relations by initiating negotiations with Washington and Seoul later that year.

That led to a surprising series of summits, with Kim and Trump meeting three times

However, negotiations have faltered in recent months over disagreements in exchanging sanctions relief and disarmament steps.