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(LEAD) N. Korean leader still smokes after 80-day 'hiatus"

All News 16:32 June 04, 2016

(ATTN: RECASTS slug, headline, lead; UPDATES with Kim's smoking from paras 2-7; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, June 4 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who is known to be a heavy smoker, has held a cigarette for the first time in months in public, a photo released by the North's mouthpiece newspaper showed Saturday.

A snapshot of him smoking at the remodeled Mangyongdae Children's Camp in Pyongyang was published in Rodong Sinmun. Kim was there to promote "Pyongyang Speed," a term referring to the North's rapid industrialization, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

He was last seen smoking more than 80 days ago at a test evaluating the heat stability of a homegrown North Korean rocket.

Experts speculated that Kim may have refrained from smoking in front of cameras because the North's media have been campaigning against that behavior. Rodong Sinmun, in fact, published several stories reiterating the harmful effects of cigarettes between April and May. At one point, local women appeared on the Korean Central Television to denounce smokers as "imbeciles who upset their surroundings."

One North Korea expert said Kim may have resumed smoking in public in hopes of inciting nostalgic feelings toward late North Korean founder Kim Il-sung, who also smoked.

"But it's difficult to understand why the North Korean media stressed the detrimental effects of smoking and then showed Kim doing exactly that," a North Korea expert said.

Some 53 percent of North Korean men were smokers in 2012, the highest smoking rate among the 10 Asian countries surveyed by the World Health Organization then.

Meanwhile, KCNA said Kim was "blown away by the work employees have done to improve the facility offering comprehensive education and training to children."

Kim "was impressed by the workers and party members who upheld the spirit of 'Pyongyang Speed,'" the KCNA reported.

The leader also noted with "great satisfaction that another excellent children's palace reflecting the party's noble love for the younger generation and the future has sprung up," it added.

Cafeterias, party halls, outdoor dining halls, swimming pools and outdoor basketball courts have been added to the camp founded in 1963, the report said.

Kim was accompanied by his right-hand man Choi Ryong-hae, who is the vice chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), Jo Yong-won, vice department director of the WPK Central Committee, and Ma Won-chun, director of the Designing Department of the National Defense Commission.


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