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North Korea’s Kim appears in public for the first time in a month

Man watches a television screen showing news footage of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made his first public appearance in about a month, with state media showing him at a Party meeting that discussed ways to improve the country’s deteriorating economy.

Kim, wearing his signature black Mao suit, said it was time to take “additional state measures for solving pending problems urgent for the economic work and people’s living,” according to official Korean Central News Agency Saturday. A plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Party will be held in early June, KCNA said.

Kim also reviewed the “execution of major policy tasks in different fields” in the meeting, the state media said.

North Korea’s economy has shown little sign of growth this year after its worst contraction in decades as it continues to struggle with the pandemic, U.S. sanctions and a lack of trade with China.

Kim’s last public appearance was on May 6, when he posed for a photograph after a gathering for military families, according to NK News, a website that focuses on North Korean news.

The latest absence could be part of Kim’s plans to avoid COVID-19, NK News said. He could have been attending to state matters or vacationing at his coastal mansion, where satellite imagery indicates an increase of activity in the area, it said.

The health of North Korea’s leader is one of the most closely guarded secrets in the reclusive state, known only to a few people in the country’s most powerful inner circle.

Being overweight and a chain smoker, Kim, 37, has been the subject of health speculation for years. His longest absence from the public eye was six weeks in 2014. When he did appear, he was walking with a cane, raising speculation that he could be suffering from gout.

Periods of prolonged absences have become a bit more frequent for Kim since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. NK News said the current break is his seventh since 2020.

North Korea, which was quick to shut its borders, could find its antiquated and underfunded medical system overwhelmed by an outbreak of the coronavirus. Pyongyang has said it has had no recorded cases of COVID 19, a claim doubted by officials in the U.S. and Japan.

Kim is thought to have three children, the oldest about 11 years old. With no clear successor, the leader’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, is seen by the outside world as a possible candidate to take over should something happen to her brother.

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© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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