Kim Jong-un no-show at North Korean parliament prompts health speculation
Speculation intensified yesterday that North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-un may be ill after he failed to take his customary seat as the country convened its rubber-stamp parliament.
Only part of this year's second meeting of the Supreme People's Assembly was shown on North Korean state television, but Kim was not present.
If he had missed the meeting, it would be for the first time since he took power after the death of his father Kim Jong-il in December 2011, according to an official for South Korea's Unification Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of office rules.
The usually ubiquitous Kim, the third member of his family to rule the country, has not been seen in state media since attending a concert in Pyongyang on September 3.
He was shown limping on television in July and again earlier this month.
South Korean media outlets have speculated that Kim has been ill, although there has been no discussion of his health in the authoritarian North's state-run media.
The assembly normally meets once a year in April to rubber-stamp budgetary and personnel matters decided by the ruling party.
When the official Korea Central News Agency announced the date for this year's second session, it did not say what would be discussed by the nearly 700 people attending or how long the session would last.
North Korean media said yesterday that the assembly had approved the promotion of an official seen as a rising confidant of Kim's, Hwang Pyong-so, as the vice-chairman of the country's powerful National Defence Commission.
At the April session, Kim was re-elected as the commission's head. The last time the assembly met twice in one year was in 2012. In practice it has little power.
North Korea opened polling stations in March for voters to approve a new roster of deputies for the assembly, and Kim was elected unanimously with a 100 per cent turnout in his district.
Additional reporting by Kyodo