Seoul: North Korea's ruling party celebrated its 69th anniversary today with no early sign that "missing" leader Kim Jong-Un might finally resurface after more than a month out of the public eye Kim's unexplained absence has fed a cycle of rumour and wild speculation that only a country as reclusive and impenetrable as North Korea could sustain.
Competing theories range widely from an extended rest period to a leadership coup, via a long list of possible illnesses and ailments including broken ankles, gout and diabetes. Should he fail to put in any appearance today, the rumour mill is likely to shift up several gears.
North Korea leader Kim Jong Un
North Korea has more than its fair share of political anniversaries, but the Korean Workers' Party anniversary is one of the bigger ones, and Kim would be expected to show up. For the past two years, he has marked the occasion with a post-midnight visit -- along with other top leaders -- to the mausoleum in Pyongyang that houses the bodies of his father Kim Jong-Il and grandfather Kim Il-Sung. The North's official KCNA news agency usually reports the event early in the morning, but as of 9:00 am (0001 GMT) there was no mention of any visit.
"My own feeling is that there has been a health problem, but not a particularly serious one," said Chung Young-Chul, a professor of North Korean studies at Sogang University in Seoul. "A no-show on Friday would certainly force us to consider the possibility that it's more serious than we thought," Chung said.
What little light North Korea has deemed necessary to shed on the situation has only added to the confusion. State media alluded at one point to the leader's "discomfort", but one member of a top-level North delegation that visited South Korea last week insisted Kim had no health problem at all.
The uncertainty means that every move or comment by North Korea is now seen through the unreliable prism of what it might say about Kim's situation. Some saw the surprise visit by the high-ranking delegation as a message that all was fine and normal in Pyongyang.
Others saw the presence of Kim's de-facto number two in the delegation as further evidence that the leader may have been sidelined or pushed out altogether. It is by no means unprecedented for a North Korean leader to drop out of the public eye for a while.