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(LEAD) NK leader in stable rule despite rumors, Seoul gov't says

All Headlines 11:45 October 10, 2014

(ATTN: RECASTS lead paras with S. Korean government's view; CHANGES headline)

SEOUL, Oct. 10 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is apparently in firm control of the communist nation despite more than a month of absence from public eye, a South Korean official said Friday.

Seoul's official assessment came as media speculation has intensified here over Kim's health and possible political instability.

"It seems that Kim Jong-un's rule is in normal operation," the unification ministry's spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol said at a press briefing.

He cited the North's dispatch of a top-level party-military delegation to the South last week. Hwang Pyong-so, director of the Korean People's Army General Political Bureau, conveyed Kim's greetings to President Park Geun-hye. And the North's state media have continued coverage of his leadership, he added.

"With regard to his specific health conditions, our government has no information to confirm yet," Lim said.

Kim remained out of public view, even as his country marked the 69th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party of Korea Friday.

In previous years, Kim paid tribute to his late grandfather Kim Il-sung at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun at midnight, along with top party and military officials. On those occasions, the North's state media reported Kim's activity just a few hours later.

But there have been no news reports yet of Kim, suggesting that he did not visit the facility in Pyongyang.

Kim was last seen attending a concert in Pyongyang with his wife on Sept. 3. His absence from public events has spawned a number of rumors, including that he has died or been toppled in a military coup.

Government officials and experts here say it is likely Kim has a problem with his legs, rather than facing any challenge to his rule.

Speaking to lawmakers earlier this week, South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo said Kim seems to be staying at a location north of Pyongyang. He cited "credible" military intelligence but would not elaborate.

Kim, who is reportedly in his early 30s, was seen limping at a July event marking the 20th anniversary of the death of his grandfather.

Instead of releasing pictures or video of Kim's activities, meanwhile, the North's media has carried routine coverage extolling his leadership.

The Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the ruling community party, praised him as a symbol of the party's "dignity and invincibility."



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