Asia North Korean leader sets aside cane, returns to duty

North Korean leader sets aside cane, returns to duty


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un

(AA) – Just weeks after claims of a coup in Pyongyang, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was shown presiding over a military meeting Wednesday – without need of the cane that had supported his return to the public eye after a six-week absence.

In images released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Kim could be seen walking unassisted at a two-day gathering of battalion commanders and other officials held from Monday.

Theories for his 41-day absence from the public spotlight had ranged from health problems such as an injured ankle, gout or diabetes, to the staging of a coup against him.

South Korean intelligence officials confirmed last week that Kim had undergone ankle surgery, explaining why he had reappeared in mid-October carrying a cane.

A KCNA report Wednesday stated that Kim, believed to be in his early 30s, “set forth important tasks to be fulfilled to turn all battalions into invincible elite combat ranks capable of beating back any formidable enemy at one blow.”

That “formidable enemy” in North Korean rhetoric usually refers to the United States – and the dispatch came hours after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called for China’s cooperation in persuading the North to abandon its nuclear weapon ambitions.

Amid reports that Pyongyang has enhanced its nuclear capabilities from both land and sea, Kerry told an audience at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies: “We’re very hopeful that, working more closely together, the United States and China will ultimately bring North Korea to the realization that its current approach is leading to a dead end.”

He added, “the only path that will bring it security and prosperity is to make real progress towards denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.”

Kerry is set to visit China later this week ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting, which will be attended among others by U.S. President Barack Obama.

It is seen as an opportunity for peaceful cooperation on North Korea – as Beijing is viewed as Pyongyang’s prime ally.

The two Koreas have technically been at war since 1950 – as the Korean War’s close in 1953 was sealed by a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty.

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