Newspaper article International New York Times

Kim Seems to Skip a Major Ceremony ; Absence in Pyongyang Likely to Add to Rumors about Leader's Power Grip

Newspaper article International New York Times

Kim Seems to Skip a Major Ceremony ; Absence in Pyongyang Likely to Add to Rumors about Leader's Power Grip

Article excerpt

Lack of a public appearance by the North Korean leader on a major holiday is likely to fuel speculation about his whereabouts and his grip on power.

Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader who has been absent from public view for more than a month, skipped an important annual ritual on Friday, a development likely to fuel further speculation about his whereabouts and even about his grip on power.

Friday was the 69th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea. Since taking over the top leadership position following the death of his father, the longtime ruler Kim Jong-il, in late 2011, Mr. Kim had marked the beginning of this important national holiday by leading top military and party officials to pay a midnight visit to the Kumsusan mausoleum in Pyongyang. By tradition, such a visit would have taken place at midnight Thursday.

But on Friday, the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency did not list Mr. Kim among the top officials who had paid tribute at the gigantic Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where the mummified bodies of Mr. Kim's father and his grandfather, the founding president of North Korea, Kim Il-sung, lie in state. The mausoleum is among the most sacred places in the country, which is ruled with a personality cult surrounding the Kim family, and a visit there during a national holiday is an important leadership ritual.

During the party anniversary last year, Mr. Kim and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, also attended the performance of a national choir and the dedication ceremonies of new buildings. As of Friday evening, there was no report from the North of Mr. Kim's having done the same this year.

But the North Korean news agency indicated that Mr. Kim remained in control, saying that a basket of flowers sent by him had been placed before the statues of his father and his grandfather.

On Friday, the North's main party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, carried a full front-page editorial calling for the "monolithic leadership" of Mr. Kim as "the only center" of power. The paper carried a large photo of Mr. Kim's father and grandfather standing together on the front page, but no image of the current leader.

In Seoul, Lim Byeong-cheol, a government spokesman, said South Korea believed that Mr. Kim's rule was "functioning normally." He added that a delegation of top North Korean officials that visited the South on Saturday had relayed Mr. Kim's greetings to President Park Geun-hye.

Speculation about Mr. Kim's status has been growing in recent weeks, with the North Korean media having reported no public appearance by him since Sept. 3, when he was said to have attended a music concert. His father often disappeared from the public eye for weeks at a time. But this was the longest disappearance for Mr. Kim, who had appeared to be bolstering his youthful leadership with frequent visits to factories and farms. …

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