North Korea's next dynastic succession may have been secured, with television images of leader Kim Jong-un's wife suggesting that Pyongyang's first lady recently gave birth.
When state television showed Ri Sol-ju attending a memorial service for her husband's late father, Kim Jong-il, in mid-December, she appeared heavily pregnant with her loose-fit traditional dress barely hiding a swollen belly.
But more recent images of her attending an official New Year's party showed her wearing a well-fitted two-piece skirt suit with no physical sign of pregnancy.
Speculation was fuelled by the official performance, which included an all-woman band singing a version of the Christmas favourite When a Child is Born. That song was made popular by the American singer Johnny Mathis.
South Korean television and newspapers yesterday ran before-and-after photos with speculative captions.
"The bulging stomach has gone … has Ri Sol-ju given birth?" asked the Dong-A Ilbo daily.
"Ri Sol-ju with her tummy reduced in 11 days. Has she come out right after childbirth?" ran the caption in the Chosun Ilbo daily.
A South Korean government official said Ri "appeared to have already given birth, based on analysis of the TV images."
That Kim Jong-un even had a wife was only revealed in July last year when pictures emerged of a stylishly dressed young woman accompanying the new young leader at official events.
Pyongyang's state media confirmed her identity later the same month in a rare move in the isolated and deeply patriarchal nation, which has rarely placed its first ladies under the spotlight.
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.
Ri was described as coming from an ordinary family, with her father an academic and her mother a doctor.
She visited South Korea in 2005 as a cheerleader for her country's squad in the Asian Athletics Championships.