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Kim Jong Un's Absence Fuels Rumors

FILE - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
FILE - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has not been seen in public for more than a month, fueling rumors of serious health or political problems.

Kim, who succeeded his father Kim Jong Il in 2011, was last seen September 3 at a concert by his favorite pop group, the Moranbong Band, an all-girl group consisting of five young women, all hand-picked by Kim.

North Korean watchers were surprised in late September when Kim did not attend a meeting of the country's ceremonial parliament - a gathering he has attended his first two years in office.

Two months earlier, the portly Kim was seen awkwardly limping across a stage at a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the death of his grandfather, the country's founding president, Kim Il Sung.

Shortly thereafter, a state media documentary mentioned in passing that the leader, regarded by many North Koreans as an almost divine figure, was experiencing unspecified "discomfort."

At this point, any speculation on Kim's whereabouts is only a guess. The problem is complicated by the secretive nature of the government in North Korea, where little information leaks out except that given in official reports.

South Korean media have reported Kim suffers from gout -- which runs in the family -- in addition to high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, all related to obesity and his fondness for Emmantal cheese.

Some observers say that his younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, has stepped in to fill the void. She is the youngest child of Kim Jong Il.

Rumors took a more serious turn Saturday when Kim Jong Un's top deputies unexpectedly traveled to South Korea for the highest-level face-to-face talks in five years. The delegation was led by Huwang Pyong So -- believed to be Kim's second in command.

With rumors flying, the outside world will get one important clue on the fate of Kim Jong Un on Friday, when North Korea mounts its very public ceremonies to mark the founding of the ruling Korean Worker's Party.

If the supreme leader fails to show at this must-see event, it could signal he has very serious problems, physical or political.