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Kim Jong Il Did Have Stroke: French Doctor

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SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Il did suffer a stroke but did not undergo surgery as was widely reported and his health is improving, a Paris doctor told a French newspaper.

North Korea's state-run media, meanwhile, issued a dispatch Friday saying Kim recently toured chicken farms and collectives in the countryside, the latest of several such reports apparently aimed at making the autocratic leader appear active and healthy.

Neurosurgeon Francois-Xavier Roux of Sainte-Anne hospital in Paris told Le Figaro newspaper that Kim suffered a stroke but did not undergo surgery. He said Kim's condition is improving.

Roux's account is significant because it is the first eyewitness observation of the leader publicly available since Kim reportedly fell ill.

South Korean and U.S. officials say the 66-year-old leader suffered a stroke in August and underwent surgery. His failure to appear at a September military parade celebrating North Korea's 60th anniversary had sparked speculation about his health.

However, Roux said Kim is improving. "I have the impression that he is in charge in North Korea," he told Le Figaro in an interview published Thursday.

Roux visited Pyongyang in the end of October, Le Figaro said. The doctor declined to provide details, citing a doctor-patient confidentiality.

The doctor told The Associated Press in late October that his contacts with North Korea date back more than a decade, and most recently was in the North Korean capital in April for training and teaching.

At the time, he spoke to The AP by cell phone from Beijing, apparently en route to Pyongyang, but insisted he was not on his way to North Korea to see Kim.

The North has denied the autocratic leader was ever ill and state media has issued a series of reports since early October portraying Kim as healthy and active and making the usual rounds of military units and factories. Roux told Le Figaro the photos appeared authentic.

On Friday, the North's official Korean Central News Agency said Kim toured farms and a folk village in the southern city of Sariwon.

KCNA said Kim urged farmers to provide North Koreans with more chickens and eggs under the slogan "Serve the people!" He also visited farming collectives, praising workers for their diligence in helping to feed North Korea's people.

KCNA later released three picture showing Kim touring the farms and the village. Dressed in a light-gray winter parka, thick gloves, sunglasses _ and a brown fur hat in one photo _ Kim looked healthy.

The report did not provide an exact date of the visits.

Kim's health is of keen interest because the Stalinist leader, who inherited leadership from his father in 1994, rules the isolated, nuclear-armed country with absolute authority and has not publicly anointed a successor.