Kim Jong-un has an unspecified medical problem, North Korea’s state media reported after the leader failed to appear at a key political event.
A report on state television said on September 25 that Kim Jong-un, 31, was in an “uncomfortable physical condition” but gave no details.
Earlier, Kim Jong-un was absent from a session of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) – North Korea’s legislature.
Kim Jong-un has not been seen in public for more than three weeks.
His non-appearance at the SPA – to which he was elected in March with 100% of the vote – on September 25 prompted renewed speculation about the leader’s whereabouts.
The report on state-run Central Television later in the day showed footage of the leader limping during one of his regular inspection tours back in July.
Kim Jong-un made his last public appearance on September 3, when he attended a concert given by the Moranbong Band – an all-girl musical troupe reputedly hand-picked by the leader himself.
State newspaper Rodong Sinmun showed Kim Jong-un sitting in comfortable front-row seats, alongside his wife Ri Sol-ju.
Previous appearances, the usual diet of factory and military unit inspections, show a clearly overweight Kim Jong-un walking with a limp and wearing generously cut trousers, possibly to disguise his walking difficulties.
South Korean newspaper Joongang Daily supports the leg injury theory, and suggests that his disappearance may be due to an injury picked up during some sort of sporting activity.
It is known that Kim Jong-un is a lover of horse riding and is keen on watching basketball and football.
An anonymous source – said to be “familiar with North Korea affairs” – quoted by the South Korean news agency Yonhap, said he understood Kim Jong-un was “suffering from gout, along with hyperuricemia, hyperlipidemia, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure”.
The agency said some people attribute the deterioration in Kim Jong-un’s health to frequent drinking and overeating.
The source said gout runs in Kim Jong-un’s family, with his grandfather Kim II-sung, his father Kim Jong-il and his elder brother Kim Jong-nam all suffering from the disease.
Chosun Ilbo suggests that Kim Jong-un simply might be on holiday, but notes that army politburo head Hwang Pyong-so, Kim Jong-un’s constant shadow on inspection visits, has also disappeared from view.
It is not the first time that the North Korean leader has failed to appear in public for an extended period. In March 2012, he spent 21 days out of the public eye; in June of the same year it was 24 days; and in January 2013 it was 18 days.
Despite the lack of recent footage of Kim Jong-un, he has not entirely disappeared from televisions tuned to Central Television.
Viewers get a daily dose of archive footage of months-old inspection visits along with an enthusiastic voice-over, usually in the hour leading up to the main evening news.