kim jong il 224 88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
North Korea's state news agency reported a public appearance by reclusive leader Kim Jong Il for the first time in nearly two months, an absence that prompted speculation he was seriously ill.
Kim watched a university football game, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Saturday. It did not say anything about his health condition or when he made the appearance.
The 66-year-old leader had not been seen in public since mid-August. US and South Korean officials said last month that Kim suffered a stroke and underwent brain surgery but North Korea has denied he was ill.
Kim's failure to appear for two key occasions _ a military parade marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of North Korea and Korean Thanksgiving - reinforced the notion that he was seriously ill and raised questions about future leadership of the isolated communist country.
KCNA said Kim, accompanied by other officials, watched the game marking the 62nd anniversary of his alma mater Kim Il Sung University, named for his late father who founded North Korea.
The report did not say when or where the game was held or whether Kim and the other officials attended in person or watched it televised from another location. It said he congratulated the two teams that played after the game.
The KCNA report could not immediately be verified. In Seoul, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyeon said late Saturday he was aware of the report but had nothing to add.
Information about North Korea, one of the world's most isolated nations, can be difficult to confirm, and Kim basks in a cult of personality that tolerates no criticism or dissent.
Kim is believed to also suffer from diabetes and other chronic ailments. But South Korean officials had said his condition appeared to have improved in recent weeks.
Kim's extended absence from the public eye is not his first. But it is believed to be his longest since assuming leadership after his father's death in 1994 in what became the world's first communist dynasty.
It remains unclear whether one of his three adult sons will carry the dynasty into a third generation. Kim himself spent 20 years preparing to take over as leader, but he has not named a successor.
KCNA's last mention of Kim making a public appearance was on August 14 - around the time North Korea stopped disabling its Yongbyon nuclear plant and began reassembling the facility in violation of a multilateral disarmament-for-aid pact.
The 2007 accord requires North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for energy aid and other concessions.
But angered by Washington's demand that the North agree to a verification system, the country abruptly stopped the process and recently asked UN nuclear inspectors to remove the seals affixed to show equipment had been disabled.
US nuclear envoy Christopher Hill went to North Korea earlier this week to try to salvage the agreement but after his visit, the State Department said the North was continuing to restore its nuclear facilities.
Hill, who described the talks with his North Korean counterpart as "lengthy" but yielding little progress, made no mention of Kim upon his return to Seoul on Friday.
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