N Korea leader 'appears in public'

Foreign agencies examine pictures said to show healthy Kim Jong-il at football match.

    Kim is pictured with a full head of hair, despite reports that he underwent brain surgery in August [AFP]

    In the photographs Kim is shown wearing his trademark sunglasses with a brown jacket and black trousers, but there are no scenes of the football match in the same frame as the Korean leader.

    Separate pictures released on Sunday showed scenes of a football match.

    "North Koreans are desperately stepping up their efforts to send a message: Mr Kim is doing well. He is firmly in control," Kim Yong-Hyun, a professor and North Korean expert at Seoul's Dongguk University, said.

    Last week, Kim failed to attend the funeral of Pak Song-Chol, the vice-president and one of the most senior members of the communist state, according to a South Korean news agency.

    The situation further fuelled speculation about the North Korean leader's health which were sparked after he was conspicuously absent from ceremonies to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the state's founding in September.

    According to US and South Korean officials, he suffered a stroke and had undergone brain surgery.

    Taro Aso, the Japanese prime minister, said last week that intelligence reports indicated that Kim was probably in hospital but still in control of the state.

    Kim Ho-nyeon, South Korea's unification ministry spokesman, said it was analysing Sunday's photographs with outside experts.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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