x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

New photos of Kim Jong Il

A new Kim Jong Il photo shows him at football match but fails to allay questions about his health.

In this undated photo North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, wearing glasses, watches a soccer game between teams of the (north) Korean People's Army.  The news service did not say the date nor place the North Korean leader watched the game.
In this undated photo North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, wearing glasses, watches a soccer game between teams of the (north) Korean People's Army. The news service did not say the date nor place the North Korean leader watched the game.

North Korea has released a photograph showing its leader Kim Jong Il smiling and watching a football match - the latest apparent attempt to calm intense speculation over the health of the country's absolute ruler. Mr Kim, 66, reportedly suffered a stroke and underwent brain surgery in August. North Korea has denied he is ill and has in recent weeks released news reports, photos and footage portraying the leader as active and able. Earlier today, the North's state television showed an undated still photo of what it said is Kim watching a football match between two army-affiliated teams and talking with people, according to the South Korean Unification Ministry, which has copied the image from the broadcast.

The photo shows Mr Kim sitting with other people and watching something from what appears to be a special viewing stand. Mr Kim is shown smiling, wearing his trademark sunglasses with a brown jacket and black pants, but scenes of any football match are not visible. The North's TV broadcast other shots showing Mr Kim in the same clothes talking with people near a field, although no football players are seen.

Separate photos released show standalone scenes of a football match near a small hill with trees showing autumn foliage. The Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said his ministry has begun analysing the photos with outside experts. He declined to provide details. Earlier, the North's Korean Central News Agency reported Mr Kim attended a football match between Mangyongbong and Jebi teams of the (North) Korean's People's Army together with military personnel. The report did not say when and where the game was played.

The agency said Mr Kim expressed "great satisfaction over a high level of the game played by them" and praised the army for leading the country's "songun," or military first, policy. Speculation on Mr Kim's health spiked after he missed a key national celebration marking the country's 60th birthday on Sept 9. He had disappeared from public eye since mid-August. Last week, South Korea's spy chief, Kim Sung-ho, said that the North Korean leader appeared to have recovered enough to carry out his official duties, although he was "not physically perfect".

*AP