North Korea dismisses media reports over leader’s health

By RIA Novosti,

Moscow : North Korea Thursday denied reports in two Japanese newspapers that Pyongyang was about to release an “important announcement” relating to the country’s leader Kim Jong-il’s health.

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“North Korea has never thought of making such an announcement, nor issued any instruction concerning it,” official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

The reports, carried last weekend by Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun and Sankei Shimbun newspapers, was given short shrift by the South Korean government, which said it had no information confirming the claim.

KCNA called the Japanese reports a “whopping lie” and part of a smear campaign launched by “ultra-right conservatives”.

The Japanese papers had quoted unnamed sources as saying North Korean diplomats had been told to cancel all trips and stay at their missions, to wait for an announcement.

The reports had fuelled speculation that Kim Jong-il, 66, was in a critical condition.

Earlier this month, in an apparent bid to prove Kim was alive and in good health, the secretive communist state showed photographs on state television of the leader inspecting a women’s military unit.

However, South Korean experts said the photos had clearly been taken several months ago, casting further doubt over Kim’s health.

Japan’s North Korea expert Toshimitsu Shigemura has even claimed that Kim died back in 2003 of diabetes, and that doubles of the “dear leader” have been appearing at public events ever since, even meeting with world leaders.

Pyongyang’s relations with Japan are currently at a low-point, over Tokyo’s unwillingness to fulfill its obligations under the six-party negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament.

Japan has refused to provide its share of the one million tons of fuel aid pledged to the reclusive communist state, demanding that Pyongyang first disclose all information on Japanese nationals abducted by the North during the 1970s and 1980s.