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North Koreans are said to be “heartbroken” over leader Kim Jong-un's apparent weight loss after seeing recent footage of the slimmed-down leader.
In an unusual move, the country's tightly controlled state media recently published a video of an unidentified resident of Pyongyang expressing concern for Kim.
"Seeing respected general secretary [Kim Jong-un] looking emaciated breaks our people's heart so much," the man said in an interview aired by state broadcaster KRT on Friday.
"Everyone is saying that their tears welled up," he said.
In the clip, Pyongyang residents were seen watching a big screen on the street showing a concert attended by Kim and party officials after a plenary meeting of their Workers' Party of Korea (WPK).
The broadcast did not provide any details on what had led to the weight loss.
Persistent rumours swirl about Kim’s health
Rumours have long swirled about Kim Jong-un’s appearance and health since he took over power from his father in 2011.
Given Kim's tight grip on power in North Korea - and the uncertainty over any plans for a successor - international media, spy agencies, and specialists closely watch his health.
When Kim reappeared in state media in June after not being seen in public for almost a month, analysts at NK News, a Seoul-based website that monitors North Korea, noted that his watch appeared to be fastened more tightly than before around an apparently slimmer wrist.
Early last year speculation about Kim’s health exploded after he missed the birth anniversary celebrations of state founder Kim Il Sung on April 15, only to reappear in public in early May.
He was also out of the public eye for an extended period of time in 2014, raising some concerns.
Analysts say clip could be a tactic
The rare mention of Kim’s health in the state media could be intended to head off speculation and play up shared sacrifice amid food shortages, analysts said.
Kim has acknowledged a "tense" food situation that could worsen if this year's crops fail, exacerbating economic problems amid strict self-imposed border and movement restrictions that have slowed trade to a trickle.
"The most likely reason they would mention his declining weight in this way would, in my opinion, be related to ongoing Covid-19-related border measures," Chad O'Carroll, CEO of the Seoul-based Korea Risk Group, told Reuters.
"Regardless of the motivation for Kim's rapid weight loss, it seems there is propaganda value in showing that even the leader of North Korea is enduring the same food shortages that are hitting the country at the current time."
Christopher Green, a Korea specialist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, said the regime may have intended to emphasise the fact that Kim is working hard for the people at a time of widespread hardship, or its messaging may have been an unintended consequence of Kim's inevitable appearance.
"What matters is that the North Korean regime will have received word from its many, many, many informants that Kim's condition was a talking point among ordinary people," he said.
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