North Koreans are tearfully worried about leader Kim Jong Un’s “emaciated” condition, state media said quoting a local resident, in a highly unusual broadcast that provided rare acknowledgment of foreign speculation on the issue. Kim’s weight loss.

The comments – in a country where public debate about the leader’s health and personal life is almost always banned – is seen as an effort to bolster national support for Kim as he grapples with worsening economic difficulties. caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, sanctions imposed as a result of its nuclear program and natural disasters, some experts have said.

“The hearts of our people suffered the most when we saw [Kim’s] look emaciated, ”North Korean state television said Friday, citing the unidentified man. “Everyone says her tears naturally come to her eyes. “

Judging from the recently released photos, Kim, who is around 5 feet 8 inches (1.70 meters), appears to have lost weight. Previously, tipping the scales at around 140 kilograms (309 pounds), which would make him “very seriously obese”, North Korean observers say he may have lost between 10 and 20 kilograms (22 to 44 pounds) lately.

Analysts said the remarks showed authorities were seeking to use Kim’s weight shift to bolster loyalty to the regime in desperate times, describing him as a “dedicated and hardworking” leader as the country struggles to cope. to a food crisis and other challenges.

The country closed its borders in January last year to protect itself against the pandemic, and as a result trade with Beijing – its economic lifeline – has slowed.

“The message Pyongyang is sending is that Kim is a leader who works very hard for his people, even to the point of skipping meals and losing weight,” defector-turned-researcher Ahn Chan-il told the AFP press agency.

Kim Jong Un at a Workers’ Party meeting earlier this month. He is believed to have lost at least 10 kg of weight [KCNA via AP Photo]

The North is more isolated than ever behind its self-imposed coronavirus barricade, and this month Kim admitted the food situation was “tense” in a country that has long struggled for food.

It is not known whether Kim’s weight loss was due to illness or if he decided it was time to get back in shape, and the intention behind the state’s media coverage is unknown, said Jenny Town, director of US-based Project 38 North, which monitors North Korea.

“It’s a little odd that they are showing him in such ill-fitting clothes because the optics seem to emphasize his weight loss,” she said.

“This is major weight loss, and her health is important to the functioning and the fate of the state, which is why people are watching this closely.”

With succession plans unclear, a sudden drop in Kim’s health could destabilize North Korea’s 76-year-old hereditary leadership system.

Kim’s personal life is normally taboo to North Korean state media – Pyongyang has never even confirmed the number of children the 37-year-old has had – but he’s a heavy smoker and has been gaining weight ever since. ‘he became a leader almost 10 years ago.

Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather Kim Il Sung were also heavy smokers and overweight. Both died of a heart attack.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with his father Kim Jong Il, left, in 2010. His father and grandfather were both heavy smokers and overweight and died of heart attacks. [File: Kyodo via Reuters]

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, said Kim’s recent weight loss was unlikely to be a symptom of acute ill health because he had attended several public events. this month.

“No one can really know why he lost the weight,” he said. “What is clear – from KCTV footage – is that the regime wants the world to think its people love and care for their leader, to the point of mourning his slimmer appearance.”

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