North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited a mausoleum for his late grandfather and national founder Kim Il-sung to mark the anniversary of his death, state media reported Thursday, dismissing rumors about his health.
Kim paid tribute at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where Kim Il-sung's body lies in state, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said, a day after rumors surfaced in South Korea that Kim fell unconscious after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage and his uncle Kim Pyong-il had forced him from power.
"Kim Jong-un, general secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea and president of the State Affairs of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun at 0:00 on Thursday," the KCNA said.
"At the halls where Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il lie in state the General Secretary made a bow of best wishes to the President and the Chairman who performed undying feats before the country, the people, the times and the revolution with their profound ideas and theories, extraordinary leadership ability and sweeping revolutionary practices," it said.
The visit was to mark the anniversary of the death of Kim Il-sung in 1994. Leader Kim Jong-un has paid tribute on his late grandfather's death anniversary every year since he took power in 2012, with the exception of 2018.
Accompanying Kim on the visit were members of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party and other senior officials. KCNA photos showed Choe Ryong-hae, president of the presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), and other members standing in the front row as they paid tribute right next to leader Kim.
But absent from the front row was Ri Pyong-chol, vice chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party, which reinforces speculation that he has been dismissed as a member of the politburo that consists of five members, including leader Kim.
Instead, Ri was seen standing in the third row, along with alternative members of the politburo, confirming that he was sacked from the presidium and demoted to a lower position.
A unification ministry official pointed out that Ri was seen wearing a black Mao suit, as opposed to the military uniform he usually wears in political events.
"We cannot confirm it officially, but based on the released photos, there is a possibility Ri has been demoted from a member of the presidium to an alternative member and his military position changed as he was seen wearing a Mao suit," she said.
The ministry will keep an eye on the election of any additional member of the presidium as its members have ranged from three to five, the official added.
Pak Jong-chon, chief of the General Staff of the Korean People's Army, who was speculated to have been among those dismissed, was seen standing in his usual second row wearing a vice marshal badge.
However, Pak was standing at the very left side of the row, suggesting that he was demoted to some degree.
Kim Yo-jong, the sister of the North Korean leader, was seen standing in the fifth row, while North Korea's first vice foreign minister, Choe Son-hui, paid tribute in the back.
Choe Sang-gon, director of the central committee's science and education department, appears to have been demoted as he was absent from the photo.
"He should have been detected in the second row, but he is not seen in the entire photo," the official said.
The official also said that compared with last year, the North held other commemorative events that were bigger in scale and the number of officials visiting the mausoleum increased.
At an extended politburo meeting last week, leader Kim berated officials handling anti-epidemic measures for neglecting duties and dismissed key party members. State media did not provide details, raising speculation over which members were dismissed. (Yonhap)