North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has appeared in the past few days with a bandage about the size of a few postage stamps on the back of his head, in the latest episode to stoke speculation about his health.
The bandage was visible in state media images when Kim appeared at a Korean People’s Army event from July 24 to Tuesday last week, the NK News Web site and Chosun Ilbo newspaper said.
There were also images at events late last month in which the bandage was gone and a greenish spot was visible, they said, citing a review of North Korean state media.
While the leader’s health is one of the mostly closely guarded secrets in North Korea, it has allowed rare glimpses into the 37-year-old leader’s condition as he tries to revive the economy and battle food shortages. State propaganda has for decades portrayed the supreme leader as being so people-focused that they risk their own well-being.
In June, state media cited a citizen as saying that North Koreans broke down in tears over seeing a dramatically thinner Kim, who returned to the public eye having lost weight after being absent for most of May.
Kim keeps his hair shaved below the level of his temple, making it difficult to hide any blemishes on the back of his head. By releasing the images to the outside world, North Korea provided fodder for spy agencies looking for clues about Kim’s health.
The South Korean National Intelligence Service believes there have been no unusual signs regarding Kim’s health, the Yonhap News Agency reported yesterday.
It cited lawmakers who had been briefed by the spy agency, which added that the patch was removed after a few days and there was no scar.
NK News, a speciality service focusing on the country, said there was no mark on the back of Kim’s head in photographs released by state media when he attended a July 11 event with musicians, adding that the leader likely spent time after that at a beachfront mansion in the city of Wonsan.
After a prolonged absence last year that raised concern about the stability of his regime, Kim emerged later in the year for a May Day event at a fertilizer factory with marks on his wrists that fueled speculation he might have had a medical procedure.
Kim — overweight and a smoker — has been the subject of health speculation for years. His longest absence from the public eye was six weeks in 2014. When he did reappear, he was walking with a cane, raising speculation that he could be suffering from gout.
His grandfather and state founder Kim Il-sung had an almost tennis ball-sized growth on the back of his neck, which was caught in photographs on international trips over the years. His propaganda machine made sure it was never shown to his public.
Kim Jong-un is facing one of the most difficult periods of his rule that started in late 2011. The economy last year posted its sharpest drop in more than two decades due to COVID-19, natural disasters and international sanctions, South Korean central bank data released last week showed. Gross domestic product was smaller last year than when Kim Jong-un took over, it said.
He has issued rare warnings of economic struggles and food shortages, but so far has shown no indication that he is willing to return to discussions on reducing his nuclear arsenal in return for economic incentives.
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