North Korean Leader Absent at Parliament Meeting

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was not present Thursday at the second session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly, raising speculation he may be ill.

The North’s official media outlet, Korea Central News Agency, reported on the high-level meeting in Pyongyang, but did not name Kim Jong Un as one of the attendees.

According to South Korean officials, this is the first time the North Korean leader would have missed the meeting since he took power after the death of his father in December 2011.   

The leader was last seen in public at a concert on September 3.

Experts say it is likely that Kim was absent due to health reasons.

In the past two months, the 31-year-old was seen walking with a limp at a number of official events.

Professor Yang Moo-jin at the Seoul-based University of North Korea Studies told the VOA Korean Service that the fact that Kim was a no-show at the Assembly is not all that significant.

“If his condition is serious, we would detect physicians from abroad entering North Korea. But we do not see that,” explained Yang.

Yang added the North Korean leader Kim could not have approved the dispatching of a large group of athletes to this year’s Asian Games if he faced more challenges than simple medical condition.  The 2014 Asian Games is being held in the South Korean port city of Incheon near the capital Seoul, and three North Korean officials were newly appointed at Thursday’s meeting.

Hwang Pyong-so, one of Kim’s close aides, the vice minister of the Central Committee of Korean Workers’ Party, was appointed as vice chairman of the country’s powerful National Defense Commission.  

Also on the agenda at the second session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly was the progress made on the extension of the North’s formal education to 12 years.

During his first year as the leader of the country, Kim Jong Un held a second session of the Supreme People’s Assembly in September 2012 to extend North Korea’s formal education.

Premier of North Korea Pak Pong-ju announced a report on the Assembly, in which he said administrative guidance should be established and legal control of its execution needs to be strengthened.

The North Korean media did not report on whether any changes to economic policies have been discussed at the Supreme Assembly, which was widely expected among North Korea watchers.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report.

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