North Korea has confirmed its leader Kim Jong Un is married, ending weeks of speculation about the identity of a woman who has accompanied him to recent public events.
Listen to VOA's Steve Herman in Seoul
State media reported that Mr. Kim and "Comrade Ri Sol Ju" toured a newly-built amusement park Wednesday in Pyongyang. It was the first time North Korean media referred to the leader's wife and provided her name. But the reports did not say when the two were married or provide other details.
Mr. Kim took over the leadership of the reclusive state from his father Kim Jong Il, who died in December. The introduction of North Korea's first lady is the latest in a series of moves that break with the late Kim's secretive and dour leadership style. Kim Jong Un also has spoken in public and chatted informally with troops and other citizens.
VOA Seoul correspondent Steve Herman says analysts believe North Korea's new leader is trying to prove himself. "Because Kim Jong Un is so young - he's believed to be 29 years old - by showing him as a married man, so to speak, that shows that he is mature and this is very important in Korean culture. So this would help bolster his image as a leader. And he does not carry that personal baggage of his father, who apparently had a number of different wives and lovers over many years," he said.
U.S. State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said Washington remains concerned about the plight of North Korea's impoverished population.
"We would always wish any kind of newlyweds well as they embark [on their life together]. But obviously, our concerns first and foremost are for the North Korean people and our hope that conditions for them will improve and that the new DPRK leadership will make the right choice about opening (up) the country and providing more for their people," she said.
Another sign of Mr. Kim developing his own image is last week's announcement he has taken the title of Marshal, the country's top military rank.
Herman said South Korea pays close attention to revelations about Pyongyang's leadership because the two neighbors have remained technically in a state of conflict since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
"Anything that happens with the North Korean leadership is very big news here because of the number of rockets and artillery that are pointed at Seoul from North Korea and the fact that North Korea is believed to be developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and has the world's fourth largest army, which would be used against South Korea if there were to be a new conflict," Herman said.
"So, anything about Kim Jong Un's personal life is going to be of tremendous interest in South Korea."
A report released Wednesday by the International Crisis Group said there are no clear signs of a conspiracy to overthrow Mr. Kim, despite his surprise removal of a top military leader earlier this month. ICG senior analyst Daniel Pinkston told VOA that Mr. Kim has a "firm grip" on power and is unlikely to make any significant policy changes.
The report said Pyongyang could test long-range missiles or a nuclear bomb in an effort to bolster Mr. Kim's credentials.
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