For the first time in nearly six weeks, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appears in public in images released Tuesday by state media.
The North Korean ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun published photographs of Kim visiting a new housing complex in Pyongyang.
The newspaper coverage included full-length photos showing Kim smiling and leaning on a black walking stick that he held in his left hand as he toured the residential complex that was built for scientists working on North Korea's satellite program.
The reports did not say when the photos were taken. They also did not mention Kim's prolonged absence or why he was carrying the cane.
This was the first time Kim appeared in public since early September. His extended absence fueled wide-ranging speculation about his health and his grip on power.
Photos should quiet rumors
Lim Jae-chun, a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University, said the photos should quiet some of the more extreme rumors circulating, suggesting that Kim was seriously incapacitated or removed from power in a coup.
Lim said the photographs are useful to eliminate the speculations that he might have lost his power or died. The photos prove that Kim clearly has a problem with his health, but the health issues are not so serious that he can't handle some duties.
The North Korean leader, believed to be 31 years old, succeeded his father, Kim Jong Il, in 2011. Like his late father and his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, the autocratic ruler is regarded by many North Koreans as a near-divine figure.
Lim said the photographs are reassuring in that they indicate there is no instability in the North Korean leadership at this time.
And, he added, the timing of the new photographs indicates that the international media has reach and impact, even in a country like North Korea that is virtually closed off to the outside world.
Asian games visit
During Kim’s absence, an official North Korean delegation made a surprise visit to the South for the closing of the Asian games and indicated they were open to resume suspended high-level talks.
This positive development was followed by an exchange of heavy machine-gun fire over the inter-Korean border on Friday.
The North Korean military tried to shoot down leaflet-filled balloons launched by democracy activists in the South.
Officials in Pyongyang said these “provocative” acts have “all but scrapped” the possibility of dialogue.
VOA News Producer in Seoul Youmi Kim contributed to this report.