Rumours are swirling that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is in a coma as his health reportedly continues to fail.
The dictator has rarely been pictured this year and was feared to have died in April after an alleged “botched” heart operation.
The 36-year-old, who reportedly handed over some powers to his sister three days ago, “is in a coma, but his life has not ended,” Change Song-min, a former aide to South Korea’s late president Kim Dae-jung, told local media outlets, The Mirror reports.
He said the leader’s sister, 33-year-old Kim Yo-jong, will take over his role while he is absent.
“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,” he said, according to The Mirror.
Over the weekend it was reported by CNN that South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) informed the hermit country’s top politicians that Ms Yo-jong is now “de-facto second in command”.
In a closed-door briefing to lawmakers on Thursday, Seoul's spy agency said the stress of managing state affairs had caused Kim to recently delegate some of his powers to a select group of senior officials.
Ms Yo-jong is now chiefly involved in shaping policies toward the US and South Korea.
Lawmaker Ha Tae-keung has refuted the claims, saying NIS, which has a mixed track record in reading developments in North Korea’s secretive ruling elite, insisted Kim Jong Un’s rule over his country remains absolute.
There are no signs that Kim is experiencing health problems or is grooming his sister as his successor, Ha paraphrased NIS officials as saying.
Last week, Kim Jong Un sacked his premier after an evaluation of the cabinet’s performance in economic policies.
He also said the country was facing a dual challenge of fending off COVID and repairing damage from torrential rain that lashed the country in recent weeks, destroying thousands of homes and nearly 100,000 acres of crops.
Kim insisted North Korea will keep its borders shut and reject any outside help.
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