The wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appeared on state television on Monday looking heavily pregnant and fuelling expectations of an imminent addition to the ruling Kim dynasty.
Ri Sol-ju was shown standing by her husband at a sombre memorial service to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of Kim’s father and former leader, Kim Jong-il.
Ri, who caused quite a stir when she emerged on the national scene back in July, had swapped her normal designer outfit for a funereal black hanbok, the traditional Korean dress.
But even the high-waisted, loose-fit dress couldn’t hide a visibly swollen belly, that was swiftly picked up by the South Korean media.
“Ri appeared to be in the late stages of pregnancy,” Yonhap news agency said, while the Chosun Ilbo newspaper on its website predicted that birth “was not far away”.
The fact that Kim Jong-un even had a wife was only revealed in July when pictures emerged of a young woman accompanying the new young leader at official events.
A terse statement from Pyongyang’s state television that month confirmed her identity and the fact that the couple were married.
According to intelligence reports cited by the South Korean media, the couple were married in 2009 and already have one child, although that has never been confirmed.
Rumours started to circulate when she suddenly dropped from public view in September, only to reappear a month later wearing a long coat in photos that hinted at a possible pregnancy.
Ri’s state media profile marks a departure for North Korea whose intensely secretive regime has previously kept the private lives of its rulers tightly under wraps.