Mystery as Kim's wife not seen in public for seven months
The wife of Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator, has not been seen in public for more than seven months, prompting speculation that she is pregnant or has fallen out with her husband.
Ri Sol-ju last took part in a public event with her husband on March 28, 'Yonhap News' reported, accompanying Mr Kim as he visited a commercial district and health complex in Pyongyang.
Since initially appearing as North Korea's first lady in 2012, Ms Ri was regularly seen alongside her husband as he carried out "on-the-spot guidance tours" of factories, hospitals and theme parks.
She was pictured alongside Mr Kim in state media on 22 occasions in 2013 and 15 times in 2014, but only three times in the first three months of this year and not at all since then.
A suggestion put forward by experts monitoring the regime in North Korea is that Ri Sol-ju may have crossed Kim Yo-jong, Kim's younger sister, who is increasingly emerging as the power behind her brother's throne.
"This is certainly something of a surprise as Mr Kim himself has been frequently pictured in the North Korean media," Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo's Waseda University, said.
"There are several possible reasons, including that she is pregnant or that there is some sort of problem between the two of them."
He said there were unsubstantiated suggestions that Ms Ri was close to Jang Song-thaek, Kim Jong-un's uncle and mentor, who was executed in 2013 after being charged with a raft of crimes against the state, including "gnawing at the unity and cohesion of the party".
"There have also been reports of instability in Pyongyang and even of several attempted attacks, including by factions in the North Korean military, against Kim last year," Prof Shigemura added.
"It is possible that Ri has not appeared in public because she is being closely guarded."
Another possibility is that Ms Ri has upset Kim Yo-jong, who is believed to be 29 and was last year placed in charge of North Korea's Propaganda and Agitation Department.
Her tasks include promoting her brother's cult of personality, while she also reportedly exercises influence over Mr Kim.
"The belief is that while Mr Kim lacks political ability, she is far more adept at the sort of manoeuvring that is required to keep him in power," Prof Shigemura said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)