December 29, 2008 / 1:19 AM / 9 years ago

North Korea's Kim appears at large public event

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong-il made his first appearance at a mass public event since his suspected stroke in August when he attended a concert and was met by a cheering crowd, according to a state media report on Monday.

<p>North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (C) visits the air force unit 1017 at an undisclosed place in North Korea, in this undated picture released by KCNA December 28, 2008. KCNA did not state expressly the date when the picture was taken. REUTERS/KCNA</p>

Over the past few months, the North has sought to show Kim as active and in control after reports of his illness raised questions about leadership in the world’s first communist dynasty and who was making decisions over its nuclear arms program.

“When he appeared in the auditorium, the whole audience broke into the rousing cheers of ‘hurrah!’ and enthusiastically welcomed him,” the North’s KCNA news agency said. It did not say when the concert was held.

An official with South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which keeps close tabs on reports out of the North, said this was the first time Kim has been reported as appearing before the general public at a large event since his suspected illness.

Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong told reporters: “I think the North Korean leadership is stable,” the South’s Yonhap news agency said.

The North’s state media has issued several reports in recent months saying Kim went on field guidance visits to military units, factories and farms.

Speculation about Kim’s health reached a peak in September when he did not appear at a triumphal military parade to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state by his father Kim Il-sung, which the state calls its “eternal president.”

Despite being one of the world’s most closed countries, analysts said most North Koreans have heard of Kim’s illness. The slew of recent reports of his visits has likely convinced the masses that Kim has not lost his grip on power, they said.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz and Kim Junghyun, Editing by Dean Yates

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