TOKYO – As North Korea's ruling party prepares to mark its 69th anniversary on Friday, the world will be watching to see if leader Kim Jong Un will make his first public appearance in more than a month.
Kim's absence from the public eye, along with suggestions in the North Korean media that he might be ill, has generated a wide range of rumors abroad that all is not well in the secretive and isolated country.
Kim was last was seen in public attending a concert on Sept. 3. Before that, he had been shown walking with a limp.
The Friday event marks the founding of the ruling Worker's Party of Korea.
Kim's absence would not in itself be all that important or unusual — such anniversaries are generally given more weight when they are landmark years. It was not clear how much pomp would be put on for the event Friday. A high-profile celebration is expected for next year's 70th anniversary of the ruling party.
Even so, because the young leader has not been shown in the North Korean media for the past month, his attendance at the event has taken on more meaning.
During a surprise visit to South Korea last week to attend the closing ceremonies of the Asian Games in Incheon, three senior North Korean leaders assured their South Korean counterparts that Kim was healthy, but that has done little to calm the rumors abroad that he was unwell.
Kim missed a meeting of the country's parliament late last month, and was absent again from a gathering this week to mark his late father's election as ruling party head.
Adding to the uncertainty, Kim has not been seen in North Korean media reports greeting the athletes who returned from the Asian Games — though they were given a lavish reception and heavy media coverage when they returned to the capital.