Kim Jong Il reportedly absent from national parade

There was no sign of Kim Jong Il at a closely watched parade Tuesday marking the 60th anniversary of North Korea

North Korean People's Army officials are seen during an event on the eve of the communist state's 60th anniversary at a stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea Monday Sept. 8, 2008. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) ** JAPAN OUT MANDATORY CREDIT FOR COMMERCIAL USE ONLY IN NORTH AMERICA **

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- There was no sign of Kim Jong Il at a closely watched parade Tuesday marking the 60th anniversary of North Korea's founding, and the country's state media was silent about his absence, raising new speculation about his health.

In a broadcast monitored in Seoul, Korean Central Television showed North Korea's No. 2 leader and other officials atop a viewing stand. Kim Jong Il was not shown.

Japan's Kyodo news agency reported that Kim did not attend the parade and North Korea's state news agency has made no mention of Kim appearing in public Tuesday.

Kim's last appearance reported by North Korean media came on Aug. 14. South Korean media have reported in recent days that the 66-year-old may ill and receiving medical treatment, citing government officials.

The South Korean government says it has been unable to confirm them.

Kim's health has been a focus of intense interest because his fate is believed to be closely tied to that of the totalitarian state that he inherited in 1994 from his father in communism's first hereditary transfer of power.

A spokesman for South Korea's main spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, said it could not immediately confirm Kim's absence. The rally involved about 1 million people, the spokesman said, on condition of anonymity, citing office policy.

South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles Seoul's relations with the North, said it had no information on the ceremony.

The centerpiece of the celebration had been expected to be a massive military parade through Pyongyang's central Kim Il Sung Square - named after the communist country's founding figure - as normally happens in key anniversary years.

The footage broadcast on North Korean television showed what it described as civilian militia goose-stepping through the square.

Kim Jong Il attended the parade on the 50th and 55th anniversaries.

Attention this year was focused on whether Kim would attend.

South Korean media have speculated that the 66-year-old Kim's health has worsened. South Korea's intelligence service has previously said Kim has chronic heart disease and diabetes - denied by Kim himself.

South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported Tuesday that Kim collapsed on Aug. 22, citing an unnamed South Korean diplomat in Beijing. The diplomat got the information from a Chinese source, the paper said.

A Japanese scholar and expert on North Korea, Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo's Waseda University, has even claimed recently that Kim actually died in 2003 and that the North has been using body doubles of Kim for public events.

The North's 60th anniversary comes amid international doubts over its commitment to denuclearization, speculation about the health of its leader and a worsening food crisis.

North Korea's state news agency had made no mention of the parade late Tuesday, though it carried an exhortation from the main Rodong Sinmun newspaper calling on the population to remain united around Kim.

It also called for a stronger military, describing the armed forces as "the foundation of a strong nation."

South Korea said last week the North has begun restoring its atomic facilities in apparent anger over not being removed from a U.S. list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

North Korea - which conducted an underground nuclear test blast in October 2006 - began disabling its main nuclear facilities late last year in exchange for international energy aid and other benefits.


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