Kim Jong-un is alive and well – and chairing top-level meetings about the coronavirus pandemic, North Korean media claims.
The despot leader has been pictured at a meeting with top officials, days after a South Korean diplomat claimed he was in a coma.
State news agency KCNA said the latest images were taken this week as Kim and his aides weigh up their response to the pandemic along with an impending typhoon.
Kim headed an enlarged meeting of the politburo of the Workers Party, which the agency reports assessed “some defects” in the state emergency anti-epidemic work.
At the weekend Chang Song-min, an aide to South Korea’s late president Kim Dae-jung, claimed Kim was in a coma after he handed over some powers to his younger sister, Kim Yo-jong.
Chang told South Korean media: “I assess him to be in a coma, but his life has not ended.
“A complete succession structure has not been formed, so Kim Yo-jong is being brought to the fore as the vacuum cannot be maintained for a prolonged period.”
It is the latest in a long line of rumours that Kim is dead – and a White House official is said to have burst out laughing after hearing the latest claim.
In April and May, there were claims Kim was in a coma, dead or hiding from the coronavirus pandemic as he disappeared from public view for three weeks, only for state media to publish photos of his visit to a fertiliser plant.
He often goes weeks without appearing in public, but his recent absences have sparked rumours that he has been in poor health.
North Korea has not reported any confirmed coronavirus cases, but Kim said last month that the virus “could be said to have entered” the country and imposed a lockdown after a man was reported to have symptoms.
Later test results on the man were inconclusive, according to the World Health Organisation.
In a Facebook post last week, Chang claimed Kim has been in a coma since early April and all his public appearances have been faked by state media.
Chag said: “A complete succession structure has not been formed, so Kim Yo-jong is being brought to the fore as the vacuum cannot be maintained for a prolonged period.”
The South Korean news website Shinmoongo called Chang’s claim “absurd”, and wrote that the former Blue House aide was left “greatly embarrassed” when he made the same claim in April and Kim was later pictured by state media.
South Korea’s spy agency has previously rejected claims that Kim is in a coma or dead.
A few days ago, Seoul’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) announced Kim will still “exert absolute power” but he will gradually transfer his authority to his sister “to ease stress”.
She is now “steering overall state affairs”, the National Intelligence Service added.