North Koreans call Kim Jong Il the "Dear Leader" and he holds absolute power in the Stalinist regime. (Getty Images)
NORTH KOREA - There was no sign of Kim Jong Il at a closely watched parade Tuesday marking the 60th anniversary of North Korea's founding, and Western officials said the dictator may be gravely ill.
North Korea's state media was silent about his absence from the parade, a relatively low-key ceremony that unexpectedly lacked North Korea's trademark military display. 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.
In Washington, a Western intelligence official said there is reason to believe the 66-year-old, known to his people as the "Dear Leader," was gravely ill after he failed to show up at the celebration.
"There is reason to believe Kim Jong Il has suffered a serious health setback, possibly a stroke," the official said.
Another official said rumors and reports of a possible illness were based in part on intelligence gathered by other nations. At her White House briefing, press secretary Dana Perino initially said she had no information on Kim's health.
A senior U.S. official said rumors had been circulating for weeks about Kim's health and his control over North Korea's highly centralized government. That official said the United States has no independent confirmation that Kim is ill. He has not been seen in public for nearly a month.