North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made his first public appearance in 20 days, ending an absence that sparked global speculation about his health.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Saturday that Kim attended a ceremony marking the completion of a fertiliser factory in Suncheon, near the capital Pyongyang, with other senior officials, including his sister, Kim Yo Jong.
KCNA said Kim cut a ribbon at the ceremony on Friday and those attending “burst into thunderous cheers of ‘hurrah!’ for the Supreme Leader who is commanding the all-people general march for accomplishing the great cause of prosperity”.
Kim was seen in photographs smiling and talking to aides at the ribbon-cutting ceremony and also touring the plant.
The authenticity of the photos, published on the website of the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper, could not be verified.
State-run television footage on Saturday showed Kim’s leg movements appearing stiff and jerky and one of the images showed a green golf cart in the background, similar to one he used in 2014 after a lengthy public absence.
Cheong Seong-Chang, an analyst at South Korea’s Sejong Institute, said the video footage of Kim suggested he is recovering from some sort of medical setback that affected his walking, possibly related to his ankle.
“Preparing desks and chairs on the stage seemed a bit rare for such an outdoor occasion,” Nam Seong-wook, a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University, said of the ceremony.
“Kim might have some physical conditions that prevent him from standing too long and he needs to be seated after standing up for a while.”
Rumours about the North Korean leader’s health swirled after he missed the April 15 birthday celebration for his late grandfather Kim Il Sung, the country’s most important holiday, for the first time since he took power in 2011.
Nam said if Kim is unable to stand for long periods that maybe the reason he did not attend the anniversary event in April at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where he would have had to stand for at least about an hour.
Asked about the news reports, US President Donald Trump said: “I’d rather not comment on it yet.”