TIME fun

Feel Good Friday: 11 Fun Photos to Start Your Weekend

From the joy of the World Series to a grinning Pope Francis, here's a collection of photos to get your weekend started with a smile

TIME Bizarre

The 32 Most Surprising Photos of the Month

From the return of Kim Jong Un to spooky Halloween traditions, TIME shares the most outrageous and intriguing images from October 2014

TIME North Korea

Kim Jong Un’s Mystery Disappearance May Be Solved

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un attends a military drill between KPA Large Combined Unit 526 and KPA Combined Unit 478
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a military drill at an undisclosed location in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyangon Oct. 24, 2014 KCNA/Reuters

The North Korean leader was reported to have surgery

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un apparently underwent ankle surgery in either September or October, according to a report Tuesday, which may finally explain his recent six-week disappearance.

Kim wasn’t seen in public between Sept. 3 and Oct. 14, the Associated Press reports, an unusually long absence that led many outside the reclusive country to speculate whether he was sick or had even been thrown from power. When Kim finally returned to public view, he appeared to have lost weight and was using a cane.

South Korea’s intelligence agency reportedly learned of the leader’s surgery — a foreign doctor was said to have removed a cyst from Kim’s right ankle and warned it could return due to his weight, busy schedule and smoking habit — and told lawmakers in a closed-door meeting.

[AP]

Read next: A Former Doctor to North Korea’s Founder Thinks He Passed on Health Problems to Kim Jong Un

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Feel Good Friday: 10 Fun Photos to Start Your Weekend

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Pictures of the Week: Oct. 10 – Oct. 17

From Malala Yousafzai winning a Nobel Peace Prize and the return of Kim Jong Un to Ebola diagnoses in Dallas and Angelina Jolie becoming a Dame, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

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TIME North Korea

KCNA: North Korean Leader Makes Public Appearance

Update: Oct. 14, 6:24 a.m. ET

(SEOUL, South Korea) — After vanishing from the public eye for nearly six weeks, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is back, ending rumors that he was gravely ill, deposed or worse.

Now, a new, albeit smaller, mystery has emerged: Why the cane?

Kim, who was last seen publicly at a Sept. 3 concert, appeared in images released by state media Tuesday smiling broadly and supporting himself with a walking stick while touring the newly built Wisong Scientists Residential District and another new institute in Pyongyang, part of his regular “field guidance” tours. The North didn’t say when the visit happened, nor did it address the leader’s health.

Kim’s appearance allowed the country’s massive propaganda apparatus to continue doing what it does best — glorify the third generation of Kim family rule. And it will tamp down, at least for the moment, rampant rumors of a coup and serious health problems.

Before Tuesday, Kim missed several high-profile events that he normally attends and was described in an official documentary last month as experiencing “discomfort.”

Archive footage from August showed him overweight and limping, prompting the South Korean media to speculate he had undergone surgery on his ankles. Some experts thought he was suffering from gout or diabetes.

A South Korean analyst said Kim probably broke his media silence to dispel outside speculation that he wasn’t in control and to win sympathy from a domestic audience by creating the image of a leader who works through pain.

The appearance may be a form of “emotional politics meant to appeal to the North Korean people’s sympathy,” said Cheong Seong-chang, at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea.

It was the first time a North Korean leader allowed himself to be seen relying on a cane or crutch, South Korean officials said. Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, who reportedly suffered a stroke in 2008 before dying of a heart attack in late 2011, was seen limping but never with a walking stick, nor was the country’s founder and Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, said Lim Byeong Cheol, a spokesman from Seoul’s Unification Ministry.

Cheong said Kim appeared in the recently released images to have lost about 10 kilograms (22 pounds) compared to pictures from May. He speculated that since Kim was holding a cane on his left side he may have had surgery on his left ankle.

Kim “appears to want to show people that he’s doing fine, though he’s indeed still having some discomfort. If he hadn’t done so, excessive speculation would have continued to flare up and anxiety among North Korean residents would have grown and calls by outsiders for contingency plans on dealing with North Korea would have gotten momentum,” Cheong said.

The South Korean government has all along seen no signals of any major problems.

In deciding to resume his public activity before fully recovering from his condition, Kim was looking to quickly quell rumors that his health problems were serious enough to threaten his status as North Korean leader, said Lim, the government spokesman.

“The cane aside, he looked to be in good health,” Lim said.

The recent absence was, in part, “probably an attention-getting device — and it certainly works,” Bruce Cumings, an expert on Korea at the University of Chicago, said in an email.

“The North has been on a diplomatic offensive in Europe and elsewhere, it feels isolated — and is, if we’re talking about relations with Washington,” he wrote. “All this puts them back on the front page.”

___

AP writers Hyung-jin Kim and Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this story from Seoul.

Read next: Sorry, North Korea Conspiracists: Kim Jong Un Is Probably Just Sick

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 13

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Women can’t thrive in a society where anything other than “no” means “maybe.” Consent laws are an important step, but we need a change in culture.

By Amanda Taub in Vox

2. Jokes aside, the palace intrigue behind Kim Jong Un’s mysterious absence could contain valuable intelligence.

By Gordon G. Chang in the Daily Beast

3. As we fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, global donor organizations should build a recovery plan for the aftermath.

By the editorial board of the Christian Science Monitor

4. That self-parking feature on your new car might help military vehicles avoid enemy fire.

By Jack Stewart at the BBC

5. The next wave of satellite imaging will redefine public space.

By the editors of New Scientist

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME North Korea

North Korea Leader Misses Public Appearance as Questions Loom About His Health

TO GO WITH Oly-2012-PRK,FEATURE(FILES)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un salutes during a military parade in Pyongyang, April 15, 2012. Ed Jones—AFP/Getty Images

Kim Jong Un hasn't been seen in public since Sept. 3

Kim Jong Un missed an appearance at a key annual event on Friday, furthering speculation about the North Korean Leader’s health and control of his country.

Kim, who has ruled North Korea since his father’s death in 2011, was a no-show at a celebration for the 69th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of North Korea in the country’s capital, according to The New York Times. The leader has led trips to the mausoleum that houses his father and grandfather in honor of the holiday every year since assuming power, but this year, state media did not list him as one of the officials in attendance.

The North Korean leader has not been seen publicly since Sept. 3, his longest absence from the public eye since 2010, according to NK News. Footage taken over the summer shows Kim limping and has led some to speculate that he is ill.

[NYT]

TIME North Korea

How North Korea’s Government Wants You To See Kim Jong Un

The image of the Dear Leader is tightly controlled by North Korean government's Korean Central News Agency, which has fashioned a sunny disposition for the country's mysterious leader. Kim has dropped out of view in recent weeks as many speculate about his health.

TIME North Korea

Sorry, North Korea Conspiracists: Kim Jong Un Is Probably Just Sick

Kim Jong Un waves to spectators and participants of a mass military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice in Pyongyang on July 27, 2013.
Kim Jong Un waves to spectators and participants of a mass military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice in Pyongyang on July 27, 2013. Wong Maye-E—AP

Rumors that the Supreme Leader's month-long vanishing act signals a coup or a power shuffle are likely false, experts say

It has been precisely a month since corpulent young dictator Kim Jong Un disappeared from public view, prompting frenzied speculation about his health and the state of political play in North Korea.

Kim was last seen at a Sept. 3 concert, ensconced in a red easy chair next to his wife, Ri Sol Ju. Late last month, the youthful marshal was a no-show at a meeting of North Korea’s rubber-stamp legislature. The cloistered nation’s state-run TV aired images of his seat at parliament—empty. Rumors began flying as the disappearance ran into weeks that Kim was either dying or had been deposed. But North Korea experts say that the likeliest reason is also the simplest: That the Supreme Leader is sick.

Video of Kim at a July event marking the 20th anniversary event of the death of his grandfather, North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung, showed him walking with a peculiar gait. In July footage, he was clearly sweating. State-run TV acknowledged that Kim was suffering from “discomfort.” Chosun Ilbo, the South Korean daily, translated a TV voice-over aired last month that praised: “our marshal, who lights the path of leadership for the people like a flame, although he was not feeling well.”

Yonhap, the South Korean news agency, has speculated that the latest scion of the three-generation Kim ruling dynasty may be suffering from gout, a form of arthritis nicknamed the king’s malady because it can be triggered by a rich diet and sedentary lifestyle. Both Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il (known as the Dear Leader), and his grandfather (referred to as the Great Leader) suffered from gout, according to Yonhap.

Photos of Kim taken since he assumed power show a rapidly expanding man, at least in terms of his girth. Obesity is a risk factor for gout. “The guy is seriously overweight,” says North Korea expert Andrei Lankov, who studied in Pyongyang in the 1980s and now teaches at Seoul’s Kookmin University. “It’s not good when you’re talking about a country where so many people are malnourished.”

With limited information available about Kim, North Korea-watchers are often left to dissect state-media coverage of his trips to factories or army installations that aim to capture the hereditary dynasty scion in all his glory and magnanimity. A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency in August, for instance, shows a grinning Kim at a military-run factory, standing next to a conveyer belt churning out twists of dough.

North Korean state media reports also serve to educate local elite who know how to read between the lines. “These are signals but signals only for people in the know,” says Lankov. “I am quite sure the official media reports about his ill health would have been signed off on by the great man himself.”

Another possible hint that Kim is not fully incapacitated, as some of the wilder North Korea rumors have it: a leadership shuffle was recently announced in Pyongyang. “I don’t think that would have been authorized without him,” says Lankov. “He may be undergoing some sort of treatment but I’m pretty sure he’s capable of making management decisions.”

Kim has vanished from public view before, 10 days in July, for example, as well as 18 in January. But this is his longest absence from state news coverage since taking over from his father in December 2011. Still, North Korea-watchers caution against the conspiracy theories involving coups or intricate power plays involving members of the Kim clan. John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, notes that North Korean officials have been busy in recent weeks globe-trotting on a “major charm offensive.”

“If there had been regicide or revolt in Pyongyang, it’s unlikely the wheels of North Korean diplomacy would spin like business as usual,” Delury says. “These episodes [like Kim's absence] reveal as much about us as them—our own assumptions, even obsessions, when it comes to North Korea. We assume North Korea must be on the brink of collapse, so when the young leader suspends his relentless ‘onsite guidance visits’ for a few weeks, we assume he’s been overthrown. Precisely because we have fewer sources of reliable, direct information about North Korea, it pays not to rush to judgment.”

On Wednesday, at the Asian Games being held in Incheon, South Korea, the North Korean women’s soccer squad captured a surprise gold medal by defeating the Japanese team. At the press conference, the North Korean skipper said the “players trained with dedication and never stopped fighting,” the AFP reported, “to return the warm love of our dear leader Kim Jong-Un.”

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