North Korea's Kim Reappears After Weeks Of Speculation
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un has made his first public appearance in nearly three weeks, following speculation that he was seriously ill or possibly dead state media reported.
Kim was seen walking, smiling broadly and smoking a cigarette at what the North said was the opening of a fertiliser factory on Friday in Sunchon, north of Pyongyang.
Rumours about Kim's health have been swirling since his conspicuous no-show at April 15 celebrations for the birthday of his grandfather, the North's founder, the most important day in the country's political calendar.
His absence triggered a series of rumours and unconfirmed reports over his condition, while the United States and South Korea insisted they had no information to believe any of the conjecture was true.
Kim's sudden death would have left Pyongyang facing an unplanned succession for the first time in its history and raised unanswered questions over who would succeed him and take over the North's nuclear arsenal.
China, the North's key diplomatic ally and main provider of trade and aid, is keen to maintain stability in its neighbour and avoid the possibility of an influx of refugees.
North Korea is "at the epicentre of an extremely tense security crisis", involving "a nuclear standoff where tens of millions of lives are at stake," Henri Feron, Senior Fellow at the US Center for International Policy, told AFP.
"This raises legitimate concerns about the domestic and international instability that his death could cause."
Footage showed Kim in his trademark black suit, waving to hundreds of workers who cheered his appearance and released balloons. He was surrounded by senior officials including his sister and close adviser Kim Yo Jong and showed no outward signs of ill health.
The North has insisted that it has not seen a single case of coronavirus, although experts say that is unlikely.