Where is Kim Jong Un? North Korean dictator lying low

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N. Korea holds party plenary meeting

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks during a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang. South Korea's president told its military to respond powerfully to North Korean provocations, amid heightened tensions on the peninsula. (Photo: KCNA)

North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un hasn’t been seen at a public event for three weeks, including a prominent state meeting, which he has attended every year since coming to power in late 2011.

On Thursday, Kim was conspicuously absent from the Supreme People’s Assembly, which is North Korea’s parliament attended by officials of the party, military and various national organizations. A prominent seat remained empty on stage surrounded by North Korea’s top brass.

“We expected to see him at the Supreme People’s Assembly, because he had attended that session every time,” said Yoo Ho-Yeol professor of North Korean Studies at Korea University in Seoul. “So we are speculating that he might have problems in his health.”

The 31-year-old leader’s absence has fueled speculation that Kim has a health problem, as some observers have pointed to weight gain as well as a limp when he was seen walking in July.

Korea’s state-run news agency, KCNA routinely catalogs Kim’s activities and public appearances. A count of KCNA announcements about Kim’s public appearances went from 24 events in July to 16 in August. It dwindled to just one event in September. His last listed public appearance was a September 4th concert, which he attended with his wife Ri Sol Ju, according to KCNA.

While it’s difficult to know what’s happening in North Korea, the absence of its leader from public view has given hints in the past.

“We had that kind of occasion when Kim Jong Il was seriously sick in 2008,” said Yoo.

That year, the elder Kim’s absence from parades and national events raised questions about the leader’s health. U.S. and South Korean intelligence believed that Kim Jong Il had suffered severe health problems and possibly a stroke.

Six years later, Kim died at the age of 69, in December 2011, and his son assumed command.

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