- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2008

From combined dispatches

SEOUL | Kim Jong-il attended a concert by North Korea’s state orchestra, state media said Monday, the latest official report to portray the reclusive leader as healthy amid speculation he suffered a stroke in August.

The official Korean Central News Agency said that when Mr. Kim appeared in the auditorium, “the whole audience broke into the rousing cheers of ‘hurrah!’ and enthusiastically welcomed him.”

It did not say when the performance by the State Symphony Orchestra took place.

The North’s state media have stepped up a campaign apparently aimed at projecting an image of Mr. Kim as healthy and active.

An official with South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which keeps close tabs on reports out of the North, said this was the first time Mr. 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.

South Korea’s left-leaning Hankyoreh newspaper said last week that Mr. Kim appeared in public 94 times this year, citing KCNA dispatches.

It said the figure was a slight increase from the previous year, without providing exact numbers.

Over the past few months, the totalitarian leader’s activities have included trips to a soccer match, a military unit, a steel plant, a soap factory, and chicken farms.

Few of the North’s reports, however, have provided specific dates or been accompanied by photos, making them difficult to verify.

South Korean and U.S. officials say Mr. Kim suffered a stroke in August and underwent surgery. His failure to appear at a September military parade celebrating North Korea’s 60th anniversary had sparked speculation about his health.

North Korea has denied the 66-year-old leader was ever ill.

Mr. Kim’s health is of keen interest because the Stalinist leader, who inherited leadership from his father in 1994, rules the isolated, nuclear-armed country with absolute authority and has not publicly anointed a successor.

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