May 07, 2020 13:35
The National Intelligence Service here said Wednesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un did not have any heart treatment as widely rumored before he resurfaced last week.
In a closed-door briefing to lawmakers, the NIS said Kim is believed to have conducted state affairs even when he was out of the public eye.
Kim resurfaced on May 2 after a 20-day absence to open a fertilizer plant in Sunchon north of Pyongyang, quelling premature rumors of his demise, but a new spot on his wrist kept the rumor mill in overdrive.
But the NIS said it does not believe Kim suffers from any heart-related illnesses and cited medical experts as saying even a minor cardiovascular treatment would require "four to five weeks" of recuperation.
The NIS said Kim has made 17 public appearances so far this year, compared to an average of 50 over the same period of 2019. It attributed the scarcity to Kim quarantining himself as a precaution due to the coronavirus epidemic.
NIS briefings to lawmakers are formally secret, but lawmakers habitually circumvent the restriction by leaking every word under parliamentary immunity.
The NIS also said the North's economic difficulties are escalating because the borders are sealed. North Korea's trade with China during the first three months of this year plunged an estimated 55 percent on-year to US$230 million, while bilateral trade in March alone plummeted 91 percent to around $18 million. Prices of imports, including condiments and sugar, surged.
The North Korean won also weakened against the dollar, the NIS said, and consumer price jitters triggered the hoarding of products by North Koreans who formed long lines in front of department stores and other shops.
North Korean authorities rushed to import food products and implemented various price-stabilization measures such as prohibiting hoarding, which succeeded to some extent.
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