By Jean H. Lee
The Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea’s state news agency reported a public appearance by reclusive leader Kim Jong Il for the first time in nearly two months, an absence that prompted speculation he was seriously ill.
Kim watched a university football game, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Oct. 4. It did not say anything about his health condition or when he made the appearance.
The 66-year-old leader had not been seen in public since mid-August. U.S. and South Korean officials said last month that Kim suffered a stroke and underwent brain surgery but North Korea has denied he was ill.
KCNA said Kim, accompanied by other officials, watched the game marking the 62nd anniversary of his alma mater Kim Il Sung University, named for his late father who founded North Korea.
The KCNA report could not immediately be verified. In Seoul, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said late Saturday he was aware of the report but had nothing to add.
Information about North Korea, one of the world’s most isolated nations, can be difficult to confirm, and Kim basks in a cult of personality that tolerates no criticism or dissent.
Kim’s extended absence from the public eye is not his first. But it is believed to be his longest since assuming leadership after his father’s death in 1994 in what became the world’s first communist dynasty.
It remains unclear whether one of his three adult sons will carry the dynasty into a third generation. Kim himself spent 20 years preparing to take over as leader, but he has not named a successor. ♦
Associated Press writer Jae-soon Chang contributed to this report.