The photos, released on Sunday by North Korean state media, purportedly showed Kim watching a football match, although no date was given as to when the pictures were taken.

The photographs, which showed a smiling Kim in trademark suit and sunglasses, also did not show the match or any footballers.

South Korean and Japanese intelligence officials have both said in recent weeks that they suspect Kim may have suffered a stroke, possibly in August.

Some reports say he also underwent brain surgery as a result, but the latest photographs showed Kim apparently with a full head of hair.

Paralysis

Photos released in October showed foliage that was too green for the time of year [AFP]
On Monday, South Korean newspapers were awash with speculation over any hints given in the photos related to Kim's health.

The Dong-a Ilbo and other newspapers said the way Kim appeared to be holding his left arm appeared unnatural in some of the images, suggesting that might be a sign that he was suffering from paralysis as a result of his reported stroke.

Speculation over the North Korean leader's health increased again last Thursday when he failed to attend the funeral of Pak Song-chol, a former vice-president and a prominent figure in North Korea's revolutionary history.

Accurate information about Kim is notoriously hard to come by.

A previous batch of photographs released by the North on October 11 showed him inspecting an army unit.

But intelligence officials in the US said foliage included in the photos indicated the pictures had been taken as early as spring, before his reported illness.

The most recent photos released on Sunday included autumnal colours.

Brain surgeon

Kim is rumoured to have been hospitalised after suffering a stroke in August [AFP]
Last week Taro Aso, the Japanese prime minister, said he believed the North Korean leader had been hospitalised but remained capable of making decisions on the running of the country.

Meanwhile a Japanese TV station showed pictures of what it said was a French brain surgeon recruited by Kim's eldest son to travel to North Korea to treat his father

Kim is one of the world's most reclusive leaders in a country which shrouds itself in secrecy.

The whereabouts of his official residence and offices are not publicly known and his activities have rarely been publicised in advance.

He has only once spoken in public - at a military parade in 1992 when he uttered just seven words: "Glory to the heroic Korean People's Army!"

Kim, 66, took power following the death of his father in 1994.

He is not known to have anointed a successor.