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(LEAD) Kim Jong-un appears not to have undergone surgery: Cheong Wa Dae

North Korea 17:06 May 03, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS word in quote in 2nd para; RECASTS lead; ADDS photo, details from 5th para)

SEOUL, May 3 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appears not to have undergone surgery, a presidential official said Sunday, flatly denying speculation over Kim's health.

"There were media reports speculating about Chairman Kim's surgery, citing a change in the way he walks," a senior Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters, saying the presidential office judges this not to be true.

When asked whether the North Korean leader did not even go through a relatively moderate medical procedure, the official replied yes.

The official, who asked not to be named, however, refused to unveil the grounds that this judgment was made upon.

A file photo of Cheong Wa Dae (Yonhap)

The North's state media reported on Saturday that Kim cut the tape at a ceremony marking the completion of the Sunchon Phosphatic Fertilizer Factory in Sunchon, north of Pyongyang, on Friday.

This marked the North Korean leader's first public appearance in 20 days since April 11, when he presided over a Politburo meeting of the ruling Workers' Party.

His absence from an annual event marking the April 15 birth anniversary of his late grandfather and national founder Kim Il-sung had fanned speculation he might be seriously ill.

Despite media reports speculating on his illness, officials in Seoul have repeatedly said there are no unusual signs in North Korea and that Kim is believed to be staying in the country's eastern coastal town of Wonsan.

In a parliamentary meeting, Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul referred to the unconfirmed reports as "fake news" and an "infodemic."

"We have intelligence capacity that allows us to say confidently there are no unusual signs," Kim said.

The Cheong Wa Dae official, meanwhile, downplayed reports suggesting that the fertilizer plant may be mobilized to extract uranium for the North's nuclear activities, saying they are not credible.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) cuts a ribbon for the completion of a fertilizer factory in this photo released by the Korean Central News Agency on May 2, 2020. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)


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