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World News

Kim Jong-il had stroke, now better - French doctor

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (R) visits the Central Zoo in Pyongyang in North Korea, in this undated picture released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) December 2, 2008. REUTERS/KCNA

PARIS (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had a stroke but did not undergo an operation and is now better, a French doctor who has treated him in Pyongyang was quoted on Thursday as saying.

U.S. and South Korean officials have said Kim, 66, suffered a stroke in August, raising questions about a possible succession and about who was making decisions on North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme. Pyongyang has been secretive about Kim’s health.

“Kim Jong-il suffered a stroke but did not undergo an operation. He is now better,” Francois-Xavier Roux, who last treated Kim in late October, told French newspaper Le Figaro.

“The photos that have just been published seem recent and authentic to me. I have the impression that he is in charge in North Korea. I can’t say more because of medical confidentiality and state secrecy,” said Roux, a neurosurgeon based in Paris.

North Korea has released several photographs of Kim since rumours of his ill health emerged, but foreign officials say there has been no definitive and timely image that shows him in good health.

North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said on Thursday Kim had visited a chicken farm and a cooperative farm in Sariwon, south of the capital. But it did not say when the visit was made.

Multilateral talks on getting the impoverished state to abandon its nuclear arms programme in exchange for aid and better diplomatic standing ended on Thursday with no agreement.

Analysts say they expect little movement until President George W. Bush, who branded North Korea a member of an “Axis of Evil”, leaves office in January and is replaced by Barack Obama.

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