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Monday September 15, 3:03 PM

Kim Jong Il Out of Public View as Major Holiday Passes

SEOUL, Sept 15 Asia Pulse - North Korean leader Kim Jong-il remained out of the public eye on Monday, a day after Koreans marked one of their largest traditional holidays, amid reports that the 66-year-old's illness has worsened recently.

Some media here expected that Kim might use "Chuseok," a harvest celebration on the autumn full moon, to end public misgivings about his health and show that he is capable of ruling the totalitarian nation.

Kim has made regular appearances during the holiday in previous years. But the North's state news agency has so far given no report on Kim's public activity over the long weekend this year.

The North Korean leader is known to suffer from diabetes and chronic heart disease, which he partly inherited from his late father Kim Il-Sung, who founded the communist country. The senior Kim died in 1994 of heart attack.

The North's propaganda media routinely carry reports on Kim to help tighten his grip on the regime. But there have been no reports of a public appearance by the leader since August 14, and he missed a key national event last week to mark the North's 60th birthday, lending credence to rumors of his latest health setback.

South Korea's main intelligence agency said Kim suffered a stroke in the middle of last month and is recovering well enough to brush his teeth by himself and stand on his feet if assisted.

A Japanese daily, the Mainichi Shimbun, however, said Kim's illness is far more serious than reported and that he is unable to govern the nation.

Officials here said they have yet to verify the report.

The North's media have remained silent on Kim's health, only providing brief reports on his non-public activities.

Kim received a gift from a Myanmar delegation and sent a birthday greeting to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev over the weekend, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The limited reports mark a sharp contrast with those from years past.

The KCNA said on the Chuseok holiday in 2005 that that Kim inspected the Moranbong Theater in downtown Pyongyang. In 2006, Kim was reported to have viewed a concert by a military orchestra. On last year's Chuseok holiday, Kim inspected a military unit, according to the KCNA.

Meanwhile, a source in Seoul said that Kim is being assisted by his current wife, Kim Ok, in handling state affairs.

The 44-year-old is known as Kim's fourth wife, and reportedly serves as his personal secretary.

"While Chairman Kim Jong-il's brother-in-law Jang Song-taek is working as a de facto caretaker, Kim Ok is also playing the role of liaison-cum-assistant," the source said, requesting anonymity.

Kim Jong-il's official title is chairman of the National Defense Committee.

Japan's Tokyo Shimbun reported Monday that Kim has consciousness enough to be able to deliver instructions.

"But he needs some time to recuperate from the recent stroke, with some parts of his hands and feet paralyzed," the newspaper said, citing Chinese government sources.

It added that Kim came under growing stress in the middle of last month after the U.S. delayed removing Pyongyang from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

"The U.S. move is one cause for the stroke," it quoted the sources as saying. "The Chinese government sent a team of five doctors to perform surgery on Kim shortly after he collapsed."

"Chairman Kim is now staying at the Bongwha State Guest House on the outskirts of Pyongyang," the newspaper said.



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