NORTH KOREA’S KIM JONG-UN MAKES SECOND WALKING STICK-AIDED APPEARANCE

SEOUL: North Korea’s state media on Friday reported another public appearance by leader Kim Jong-Un, his second in four days after an extended absence that has seen him re-emerge with a walking stick. The North’s ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun ran front page pictures of a smiling Kim, a black cane in his left hand, inspecting two high rise apartment complexes built to house faculty members of a university specializing in nuclear research.

The young leader resurfaced earlier this week after dropping out of the public eye for nearly six weeks — an unexplained absence that triggered frenzied speculation about his health and his grip on power. His first appearance, believed to be on Monday, was notable for the photographs showing him using a walking stick, backing up reports that his disappearance was the result of a leg injury or condition. Before his “disappearance”, state television had shown an overweight Kim walking with a pronounced limp.

His latest appearance, believed to be on Thursday, showed him using the same black cane as he toured the complex grounds and the model apartments inside, built for teaching staff at Kim Chaek University of Technology. The university is known for nuclear engineering and a number of its top graduates are reportedly employed at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, which houses a reactor seen as the North’s main source of weapons-grade plutonium.

Kim’s first appearance on Monday had been an inspection of another residential complex built for scientists engaged in a space satellite programme seen as masking ballistic missile research. Since assuming power after the death of his father Kim Jong-Il in 2011, Kim Jong-Un has cut a very public figure, with state media showing him engaged in a seemingly endless series of field guidance trips across the country.

His sudden disappearance, which began in early September, quickly became a source of rumour and speculation, which went into overdrive after he missed two noteworthy political events he would normally have been expected to attend. Some reports even suggested he had been ousted in a coup.

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