North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is married, state media confirmed on Wednesday, ending weeks of speculation about the identity of a stylish young woman seen accompanying him at official events.
Kim, believed to be in his late 20s, took over the impoverished nuclear-armed nation when his father Kim Jong-Il died last December, but the intensely secretive state had previously given no details of his private life.
State television reported that the young Kim took part in a ceremony Wednesday with his wife to mark completion of a Pyongyang amusement park.
“Marshal Kim Jong-Un took part in the opening ceremony of Nungra People’s Amusement Park with his wife, Comrade Ri Sol-Ju,” it said.
The couple were given a warm welcome, the official news agency said. “All the participants enthusiastically welcomed them, loudly shouting ‘Hurrah!’”, it reported.
A smiling Kim and his wife toured the pleasure grounds and watched a dolphin show “to the tune of joyful music” together with senior party, state and army officials and diplomats, the agency said.
There was no information on how long they have been married.
The short-haired woman was first shown with Kim during a concert in Pyongyang on July 6. She was seen walking next to the leader on July 8 when he visited the mausoleum of his grandfather and the nation’s founder Kim Il-Sung.
On July 15, photos aired by state television showed her standing close to the new leader during a visit to a kindergarten.
With other officials staying a few steps behind the pair, she was seen smiling while standing immediately behind or next to Kim as he hugged and talked to children.
In contrast to his late father, who spoke just once at a major public event during his 17 years in power, Kim has cultivated an outgoing and informal style.
He has been seen hugging soldiers, posing for photos with troops and linking arms with women.
The chubby young man physically resembles his late grandfather, who still commands respect among some North Koreans for his past as an anti-Japanese guerrilla fighter and national founder.
“It’s quite unusual for North Korea to present its leader and wife together in public,” said Yang Moo-Jin of Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies.
“This highlights the regime’s campaign to create a new image for its leader,” he told AFP.
Yang said Kim is also trying to show the people that his leadership is stable.
The United States took the opportunity to reiterate its concerns about the plight of North Koreans under the Kim family dynasty.
“We would always wish any kind of newlyweds well as they embark” on married life, said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, joking that the United States had not been invited to the wedding.
“But obviously our concerns first and foremost are for the North Korean people, and our hope that conditions for them will improve.”
Analysts say the new leader appears fully in charge of the nation, despite having had relatively little time to prepare for the succession.
Last week the regime sacked powerful military chief Ri Yong-Ho on the grounds of ill health, in what was seen as a move by the new leader to strengthen his grip on the 1.2 million-strong armed forces.
Kim was later appointed “Marshal” of North Korea, a title previously held by his late father.
The International Crisis Group think-tank, in a report released Wednesday, said he appears to be in charge in his own right despite speculation he would have to rely on close advisers.
But it said there was nothing to suggest he would take measures to improve the lot of his people or reduce regional frictions.
Regional tensions have been high since the North launched a long-range rocket on April 13. It said the aim was to launch a peaceful satellite, while the United States and its allies saw a disguised ballistic missile test.-By Lim Chang-Won