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N. Korean leader appears at soccer game, report says

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea's state news agency reported a public appearance by reclusive leader Kim Jong Il for the first time in nearly two months, an absence that prompted speculation he was seriously ill.

Kim, 66, watched a university soccer game, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Saturday. It did not say anything about his health condition or when he made the appearance.

The leader had not been seen in public since mid August. U.S. and South Korean officials said last month that Kim had a stroke and underwent brain surgery, but North Korea has denied he was ill.

Kim's failure to appear for two key occasions — a military parade marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of North Korea and Korean Thanksgiving — reinforced the notion that he was seriously ill and raised questions about future leadership of the isolated communist country.

KCNA said Kim, accompanied by other officials, watched the game marking the 62nd anniversary of his alma mater Kim Il Sung University, named for his late father, who founded North Korea. The report did not say when or where the game was held or whether Kim and the other officials attended in person or watched it televised from another location. It said he congratulated the two teams that played after the game.

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

The 2007 accord requires North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for energy aid and other concessions.

But angered by Washington's demand that the North agree to a verification system, the country abruptly stopped the process and recently asked U.N. nuclear inspectors to remove the seals affixed to show equipment had been disabled.

N. Korean leader appears at soccer game, report says 10/04/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 2:46pm]
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