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North Korea first lady Ri Sol Ju makes rare public appearance

By
Elizabeth Shim
North Korean first lady Ri Sol Ju has scaled back on public appearances but was recently in attendance at an air force tournament, according state media on Sunday. File Photo screenshot of KCTV
North Korean first lady Ri Sol Ju has scaled back on public appearances but was recently in attendance at an air force tournament, according state media on Sunday. File Photo screenshot of KCTV

SEOUL, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- North Korea's first lady made a rare public appearance, the first in nine months.

But South Korea said Monday Ri Sol Ju's appearance at a tournament held for the Korean People's Army Air and Anti-Air force was not an event that appeared to be "out of the ordinary," local news service Newsis reported.

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Ri, who became prominent in 2012, was last seen in March, when she visited a newly opened department store in Pyongyang with Kim Jong Un.

In February, Ri attended an award ceremony and dinner for North Korean scientists after the launch of the Kwangmyongsong-4 earth observation satellite on Feb. 7.

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On Sunday, North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun reported Ri accompanied Kim when he attended the air force competition.

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Other North Korean officials with Kim included Hwang Pyong So, Ri Yong Gil and Ri Myong Su, according to Pyongyang.

Hwang, the political director of the Korean People's Army, was recently added to a South Korea sanctions list that includes Choe Ryong Hae, the official who was recently in Cuba to deliver condolences at the memorial service of Fidel Castro.

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There had been rumors among North Korea watchers in the South that Ri was pregnant with a second child or is encountering "disharmony," possibly with members of Kim's family.

Ri also typically appears with Kim on civilian site visits, staying out of public view when the North Korean leader provides field guidance to the military.

On Monday South Korea's unification ministry said it has heard of "various speculations" regarding Ri's absence, but said there is "nothing official to confirm."

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Unification ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee said Ri's appearance at the military tournament was not exceptional and that Ri had attended a similar event in 2014.

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The ministry also confirmed it had heard of the closure of Egyptian firm Orascom's Pyongyang branch, but that it would need more time to verify the report.

Orascom held a 75 percent share in North Korea's main wireless network, but has faced business challenges in the country.

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