(LEAD) U.S. says it has 'no confirmation' of rumors of military coup in N. Korea
By Chang Jae-soon
WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 (Yonhap) -- The United States said Monday it cannot confirm rumors of a military coup in North Korea that have spread widely amid growing questions about leader Kim Jong-un's prolonged absence from public view.
Kim has not been seen in public for nearly a month, leading to rumors that a military coup has broken out in North Korea and Kim has been arrested. Other rumors have it that Kim suffered a sort of stroke just as his late father, Kim Jong-il, did in 2008.
"I can just say that I have no confirmation of the reports. We've seen them, but we don't have any confirmation," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters after a regular briefing. She declined to discuss the issue any further.
The rumors of a coup spread quickly on Weibo, China's version of Twitter.
The Global Times, run by China's ruling Communist Party's mouthpiece the People's Daily, carried a commentary on its edition earlier Monday, criticizing Chinese Internet users for spreading "false" rumors of a coup in Pyongyang.
North Korea is one of the most closed nations in the world, with no freedom of speech or press, and it is extremely hard to determine what is going on inside the communist nation.
Speculation has also been rife that the young leader, in his early 30s, may have a health problem, as recent video footage released by the North shows him walking with a limp. Sources said Kim could be suffering from gout due to his poor management of health and family traits.
The health of North Korea's leader is a focus of intense media attention because it is believed to be linked closely to the country's fate. The current leader took over after his father died in 2011 in communism's second hereditary succession of power.
Analysts said Kim's health problem would be a minor one, considering the country's rare admission of a health issue of its leader. In the North's video footage where Kim is seen limping, the narrator lauded him for trying to improve the livelihoods of the people even though he is "unwell."
It was believed to be the first time Pyongyang's state media have acknowledge a leader's health problem.
"They feel relaxed enough to admit publicly that he has some health issues," said John Merrill, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, during a Brookings Institution seminar on inter-Korean relations.
"This is, again, something that's new. I don't know anything for sure about what specific issues are or how bad the condition is, but I suspect that it's probably minor," he said.
Shin Gi-wook, director of Stanford University's Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, also said that he is less concerned about Kim's health because Kim is still young.
"I don't think he'll die anytime soon," he said.
Shin said, however, that Kim's frequent change in military leaderhip is a cause for concern, referring to the North's recent removal of Choe Ryong-hae as vice chairman of the National Defense Commission.
"Choi Ryong-hae was number two in that position only like for what, six months? Very short," the analyst said. "In any country, not only in North Korea, but any country, if you change the number two guy so soon that means something."