South Korea Denies North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un Is 'Gravely Ill' As Speculation Mounts
South Korean officials have been forced to deny that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is gravely ill following suspected heart surgery, after the 36-year-old missed a string of key state events last week including the annual celebration of the nation’s founder.
Speculation about Kim Jong-un’s health was triggered when, for the first time, he failed to attend the 108th anniversary event celebrating state founder Kim Il-sung on April 15.
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But the spokesman for South Korea’s president was forced to deny the reports after CNN reported that the U.S. was ‘monitoring intelligence’ that Kim Jong-un is in grave danger following surgery.
Kim Jong-un was last seen in state media on April 11, chairing a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party about tackling coronavirus, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
He also skipped North Korea’s latest weapons test, an event that he has keenly presided over previously, as well as a major parliamentary session.
Various rumours about the state of the leader’s health have emerged from South Korean lawmakers, including claims that he underwent heart or ankle surgery, to rumours he may be infected with coronavirus, Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun said.
But diplomats cited by Yonhap dismissed the rumours as speculation.
Crucial quote: “No unusual signs have been identified inside North Korea…there is nothing we can confirm with regard to Chairman Kim’s alleged health problem,” South Korea’s presidential spokesman Kang Min-seok said.
What we don’t know: Apart from what has happened to Kim Jong-un, it is not known where he is currently staying. According to online news site Daily NK, which published news about North Korea, Kim Jong-un underwent cardiovascular surgery on April 12 because of “obesity, prolific smoking and overwork,” a source at the news site said.
What to watch for: Who could potentially succeed Kim Jong-un, if he becomes incapacitated. Reuters has compiled a list of potential successors that includes sister Kim Yo Jong, his estranged brother, and his aunt. Kim Jong-un assumed power in 2011, and his family has ruled North Korea since its founding in 1948.
Key background: This is not the first time that Kim Jong-un has disappeared from view. In 2014, the leader was not seen out for 40 days, before he re-emerged with a limp and a cane. At the time, state media reported he had suffered from an uncomfortable medical condition. Efforts to confirm the state of Kim Jong-un’s health are particularly challenging given the opaque nature of the North Korean state.
Further reading: US monitoring intelligence that North Korean leader is in grave danger after surgery (CNN)
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