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.
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.
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Kim Jong Un hasn't been seen in public since Sept. 3
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.
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.
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.”
Kim Jong Un's absence from an important parliamentary meeting fuels speculation about health problems
What has happened to Kim Jong Un?
That’s the question everyone seems to be asking, amid all kinds of rumors following the North Korean dictator’s uncharacteristic three-week absence from the public eye. Kim was last seen alongside his wife Ri Sol Ju at a concert in Pyongyang on Sept. 3, and several news outlets are speculating that the 31-year-old may be ill.
The rumors intensified on Thursday with the North Korean leader’s absence from an important parliament meeting. Reuters reported that state-television broadcast images of his empty chair at the Supreme People’s Assembly, the country’s highest sovereign body, the first such powwow he has missed since coming to power three years ago.
The Wall Street Journal speculated on Friday that Kim might be suffering from gout, a disease caused primarily by an excessive intake of meat, sugar and alcohol. A South Korean official told the Journal that gout runs in the tyrannical clan, starting with Kim’s grandfather Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994 at age 82. Kim also suffers from obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, he added.
Such rumors have been fueled by reports that North Korean television showed the country’s Supreme Leader walking with a pronounced limp back in July.
Another theory about his condition, according to Agence France-Presse, is that he picked up an injury while providing “guidance” to North Korean athletes competing in the Asian Games, currently in progress at Incheon, South Korea.
Little Kim doesn't see the funny side+ READ ARTICLE
Executives at Japanese-owned Sony Pictures appear to have yielded in the face of increasing anger from North Korea over an upcoming comedy flick, The Interview, writes the Hollywood Reporter.
The movie stars Seth Rogen and James Franco, and much to Pyongyang’s dismay its plot follows two American broadcast journalists who are recruited as CIA agents and ordered to assassinate the communist state’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un after they score an interview with him.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the studio plans to digitally alter thousands of buttons worn by extras so that they no longer depict the actual buttons worn by the North Korean military to honor Kim Jong Un and his father Kim Jong Il. Sony is also considering cutting a scene where Kim Jong Un’s face is “melted off graphically in slow motion.”
In June, North Korean authorities labeled the film a “wanton act of terror” and threatened a “merciless” retaliation against the U.S. if the movie was released. The Interview was originally set to hit the big screen in October; however, because of the controversy, its release date has been knocked back to December.
Earlier report by British newspaper claimed a secret weapons deal was in the works
On Dec. 12, 2009, a Georgia-registered cargo plane made an emergency landing in Bangkok. The manifest said it was carrying drilling equipment, but working on a tip from U.S. intelligence, Thai authorities decided to check. Inside the hold, they found some 35 tons of North Korean–made weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, rocket launchers and grenades. Officials said the plane was likely bound for Iran, and its cargo to Hamas and Hizballah.
North Korea’s international reputation has become so tied to Kim Jong Un memes that it is easy to lose sight of the country’s real-life role in the global arms trade. Starved for foreign currency, North Korea has a long history of manufacturing and selling weapons, including, according to U.S. officials, deals with Syria and Iran. Earlier this month, a U.S. judge found North Korea and Iran liable for missile attacks by Hizballah in 2006. On July 28, the U.N. imposed sanctions on the North Korean company that operated a ship carrying undeclared Cuban weapons that was seized by Panama authorities last year.
Now a British newspaper says North Korea is negotiating a secret deal to sell missiles to Hamas. On July 26, the Daily Telegraph’s Con Coughlin published a report claiming that Hamas paid the Hermit Kingdom “hundreds of thousands of dollars” for missiles and communication equipment in a deal brokered by a Lebanon-based security company. The story was based on information from an unnamed Western security official who reportedly told the London-based paper that “Pyongyang already has close ties with a number of militant Islamist groups in the Middle East.”
The report has not been independently confirmed; however, it would, theoretically, make sense for both parties. Thanks to U.N. sanctions, the market for North Korean weapons is shrinking, says Daniel Pinkston, a Northeast Asia expert at the International Crisis Group. “The incentives are there to sell arms to earn hard currency,” he says, and amid the ongoing conflict with Israel, “Hamas has an incentive to buy.” But there are still a lot questions: If the report is true, when, where and how would the deal take place?
For its part, North Korea denied any involvement — and did so, of course, with exactly the kind of verbose bluster that fuels the North Korea meme machine. “This is utterly baseless sophism and sheer fiction let loose by the U.S. to isolate the DPRK internationally,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesman, according to the state-backed Korean Central News Agency.
The news agency went on to berate Washington for its stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Lurking behind this propaganda is a sinister intention of the U.S. to justify its criminal acts of backing Israel driven into a tight corner by its recent unethical killings in the Gaza Strip.” It is the U.S., it said, not Pyongyang, that is the “kingdom of terrorism and chief culprit of international terrorism.”