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Kim Jong Un's wife makes surprise appearance after yearlong absence

Ri Sol Ju, the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was seen for the first time in over a year at a concert to celebrate the Day of the Shining Star, a major national holiday, state media reported Wednesday. Photo by KCNA
Ri Sol Ju, the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was seen for the first time in over a year at a concert to celebrate the Day of the Shining Star, a major national holiday, state media reported Wednesday. Photo by KCNA

SEOUL, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- The wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made her first public appearance in over a year as she attended a performance celebrating the birthday of late leader Kim Jong Il, state media reported on Wednesday.

Ri Sol Ju and Kim Jong Un took in the anniversary concert at the Mansudae Art Theatre in Pyongyang on Tuesday, state-run Korean Central News Agency reported.

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It was the first time Ri, a former member of North Korea's all-female cheerleading squad, has been seen in public since a Lunar New Year concert in January of last year.

Her lengthy absence had led to speculation by North Korea observers that she was pregnant, sick or had fallen out of favor with her husband.

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In a briefing with lawmakers on Tuesday, South Korea's National Intelligence Service said that it was likely Ri had been keeping out of view due to coronavirus safety precautions.

The NIS said that "no unusual signs have been detected" and that she appeared to be spending time with her children, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported. The pair are believed to have three children.

Images released by state media showed Kim and Ri smiling and clapping at the performance, which included songs such as "Snowstorm over Jong Il Peak" and "A Dear Name."

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The event commemorated the Day of the Shining Star, a major national holiday that marks the birth of Kim Jong Il, North Korea's second leader and the father of Kim Jong Un.

"As the General Secretary came to the auditorium of the theater together with his wife Ri Sol Ju amid the welcome music, all the participants burst into thunderous cheers of 'Hurrah!'" KCNA reported.

No one in the audience was seen wearing masks or maintaining social distancing. North Korea says that it has had no cases of COVID-19, a claim that some observers question. The country took early and aggressive action to fend off the virus, closing its borders in January of last year and severely curtailing economic activity with its main trading partner, China.

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Kim also visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun on Tuesday, where the embalmed bodies of his father and grandfather Kim Il Sung, the nation's founder, lie in state.

He laid floral wreaths to commemorate the anniversary, KCNA reported, in what appeared to be a subdued celebration. Previous years have included mass rallies and in 2017, the secretive state conducted a missile launch just ahead of the holiday.

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