Kim Jong-un has not been seen in public for 35 days ahead of an expected mass parade in Pyongyang this week to celebrate the North Korean military’s 75th anniversary.
The authoritarian leader skipped a Politburo meeting on the country’s acute agricultural crisis on Sunday, NK News reported, noting that it was only the third time he had ever done so.
Previous extended periods out of the public eye have fuelled rumours about his deteriorating health and speculation about his possible successor.
The North Korean leader’s 35-day break from the public eye matches another prolonged absence at the end of 2021, the Seoul-based website said.
However, Kim is still expected to attend this week’s military parade, which could be held as early as Tuesday night.
Preparations for a possible celebration of the foundation of the Korean People’s Army have been under way in freezing conditions at the Mirim parade training ground since January, despite a sudden five-day lockdown in the capital, Pyongyang, according to satellite imagery analysed by US-based monitoring site 38 North.
Videos emerged over the weekend of military aircraft flying in formation at night, and at low altitude, over central Pyongyang in the direction of Kim Il-sung square, where most of North Korea’s major public events are held.
Scores of citizens wearing medical masks were also seen assembled in the square, alongside multiple large structures covered in black drapes, according to photos obtained by NK News.
North Korea, which in the past has televised mass parades with great fanfare to showcase its latest weaponry, has held many of its recent public celebrations under cover of darkness.
The pomp and grandeur of the planned spectacle comes despite reports of severe food shortages in the reclusive state.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency reported on Monday that the ruling Workers’ Party plans to make the unusual step of meeting for a second time within two months to discuss agricultural issues.
Humanitarian aid organisations have consistently warned that the North is facing chronic food shortages, exacerbated by factors including closed borders and self-isolation during the pandemic, natural catastrophes and bad economic management.