Huffpost Politics

Kim Jong Il Makes First Public Appearance Since Illness: Report

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SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Il watched a university soccer game, a state-run news agency said from Pyongyang on Saturday, reporting on the leader's first public appearance in nearly two months.

Kim and other political leaders watched the game held to mark the 62nd anniversary of the founding of the university named after his late father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, the Korean Central News Agency report said.

The university's 62nd anniversary was Oct. 1 but the report did not say when or where the game was held. It also did not say whether Kim, who is believed to have suffered a stroke in August, attended the game in person. There was no mention of his health.

The 66-year-old leader had not been seen in public since mid-August, missing two key occasions _ the 60th anniversary of the founding of North Korea and Korean Thanksgiving _ amid mounting speculation about his health.

U.S. and South Korean officials said last month that Kim, believed to have diabetes and other chronic ailments, suffered a stroke, citing unidentified sources. North Korean officials, however, steadfastly denied he was ill.

Information about North Korea, one of the world's most reclusive nations, can be close to impossible to confirm.

In Seoul, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said late Saturday that he was aware of the KCNA report but had no additional information.

South Korean officials had said Kim was believed to have improved in recent weeks.

Kim's extended absence from the public eye is not his first, but it is believed to be his longest since assuming leadership of communist North Korea after his father's death in 1994.

KCNA's last mention of Kim making a public appearance was on Aug. 14 _ around the time Pyongyang stopped disabling its Yongbyon nuclear reprocessing plant and began reassembling the facility in violation of a multilateral disarmament-for-aid pact.

U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill went to North Korea earlier in the week to try salvaging the agreement, worked out in February 2007 by the two Koreas, Japan, Russia, China and the U.S. in a bid to dismantle the nation's nuclear program.

Hill, who returned to Seoul on Friday, made no mention of Kim.

While the news agency has since reported that Kim sent birthday greetings to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and congratulations to Beijing on a key Chinese anniversary, there had been no mention of him appearing in public until Saturday.

The report said Kim congratulated the two soccer teams from Kim Il Sung University and the Pyongyang University of Railways after the game.

Kim praised the student athletes, saying: "The revolutionary and militant students in our country are good at art and sporting activities while devoting all their wisdom and enthusiasm to the study of science for the country and the people," KCNA said.

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Associated Press Writer Jae-soon Chang contributed to this report.