Where is Kim Jong-un? Speculation about North Korean leader intensifies

From a debilitating battle with gout, to house arrest and outright regime collapse, speculation over the reason behind Kim Jong-un’s lengthy absence from public life is intensifying as North Korea prepares to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of its ruling party on Friday.
Theories about the health of the head of its ruling dynasty have abounded since late last month, when North Korean state media admitted that Kim, an overweight 31-year-old with a rumoured weakness for cheese, was suffering from an “uncomfortable physical condition” caused by an unnamed ailment.
A day earlier, Kim had failed to attend a session of the supreme people’s assembly, North Korea’s national legislature, where leaders would normally be expected to make an appearance.
In July, a visibly heavier Kim, who became leader in December 2011 following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, was shown on TV walking with a limp at an event to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of his grandfather and North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung. The footage prompted surprise among observers that he had been portrayed in such an unflattering light. He has not been seen in public since 3 September, when he attended a concert.
His absence at celebrations to mark the 69th anniversary of the Korean Workers’ party would not necessarily indicate a serious health problem or political flux, because it is not a landmark year. However, Kim attended the celebrations last year and in 2012, with late-night visits to the mausoleum where the bodies of his father and grandfather are interred.
Rumours emanating from China that rival power brokers at the heart of the state apparatus have ousted Kim are wide of the mark, according to analysts.
The most likely explanation for his absence is prolonged treatment for a painful leg condition, possibly gout, said Jiro Ishimaru of Asia Press, an Osaka-based organisation with a network of high-level contacts in North Korea.



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