Seoul: North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un has made his first public appearance in five weeks, the country's official news agency reported on Tuesday, ending an absence that fueled global speculation that something was amiss with the country's most powerful person.
Resuming what had been a regular practice before he stopped showing up in media reports for 40 days, Kim "gave field guidance" at the newly built Wisong Scientists Residential District, according to a dispatch from the Korean Central News Agency released in the early morning hours. The agency didn't say when the visit happened, but added that Kim made another visit the same day to a newly built natural energy institute.
These kinds of inspection tours had been typical of Kim, thought to be 31 and the third generation of his family to rule, until he began laying low after last appearing Sept. 3 at a concert.
As the weeks passed, the apparent vanishing act of a man long caricatured in foreign media as an all-powerful overlord sitting on a nuclear arsenal while his people starved proved endlessly fascinating.
And while there was plenty of informed analysis from experts and frequent visitors to Pyongyang that said it probably wasn't anything that serious, there seemed to be even more thinly sourced speculation.
Kim was, by turns, reported to be suffering from gout, from diabetes, from a brain hemorrhage, from a heart ailment, from a leg injury that required surgery from a French doctor, from mental illness or, according to a head-turning British report, from a cheese addiction. There were rumors of coups.
The KCNA report on Tuesday made no mention of Kim's health, only detailing his routine comments about the construction projects.
The speculation during his absence was fed by Kim missing several high-profile events that he normally attends and his description in an official documentary last month as experiencing "discomfort." Archive footage from August showed him overweight and limping.
At a South Korean parliamentary hearing Monday, Choi Yoon-hee, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a lawmaker that whatever health problems Kim might have, they "are not severe enough to disrupt his status as the ruler of the country."
Analysts pointed out that there were no signs to indicate any major problems.
No unusual troop movements or other signs of a possible coup emerged. Diplomacy at the highest level continued: Three members of his inner circle made a surprise visit to the South, something analysts say would be impossible without the leader's blessing. Foreign tourists and aid workers still traveled to the North, and there were no reports of new restrictions or warnings for diplomats.
There's also nothing particularly unusual about North Korean leaders laying low for extended periods. Kim's late father, Kim Jong Il, no fan of the limelight in his later years, would disappear at times; Kim Jong Un, who seems to genuinely like being at the centre of things, took off without a word for three weeks in 2012.
Kim Jong Un emerged as the anointed successor after his father disappeared from public view in 2008 - by most accounts because of a stroke. The elder Kim died in late 2011.