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Un becomes 2: North Korea confirms Kim is married

Published: Thursday, July 30 2015 7:48 p.m. MDT

FILE - This is a file photo made available on Monday July 9, 2012  by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed in Tokyo by the Korea News Service of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un,  right, and   Ri Sol Ju as they clap with others during a  performance by North Korea's new Moranbong band in Pyongyang, North Korea earlier in July. North Korea's new, young leader Kim Jong Un is married, state TV reported Wednesday July 25, 2012 for the first time in a brief and otherwise routine announcement that ends weeks of speculation about a beautiful woman who has accompanied him to recent public events.  Kim toured an amusement park with his FILE - This is a file photo made available on Monday July 9, 2012 by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed in Tokyo by the Korea News Service of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, and Ri Sol Ju as they clap with others during a performance by North Korea's new Moranbong band in Pyongyang, North Korea earlier in July. North Korea's new, young leader Kim Jong Un is married, state TV reported Wednesday July 25, 2012 for the first time in a brief and otherwise routine announcement that ends weeks of speculation about a beautiful woman who has accompanied him to recent public events. Kim toured an amusement park with his "wife, comrade Ri Sol Ju" on Tuesday, while a crowd cheered for the leader, the news anchor said without giving any more details about Ri, including how long they had been married. (Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service, File, Associated Press)

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea ended weeks of speculation Wednesday by confirming that the mystery woman beside young leader Kim Jong Un at recent public events is indeed his wife, "comrade Ri Sol Ju."

The news was buried in a state TV report about Kim's tour of a new amusement park, delivered casually by a newscaster who gave no details about Ri, including how long she and Kim have been married.

Kim, who inherited rule of North Korea from his father, Kim Jong Il, seven months ago, has been seen with Ri at a concert, a kindergarten visit and other events recently, but state media did not mention her before now, fueling widespread speculation about her identity.

Analysts said the announcement was a calculated move by Kim and his advisers as they forge the image of the 20-something leader who took power following the December death of Kim Jong Il.

"Kim Jong Un is breaking with his father's secrecy-shrouded leadership," said Lim Eul-chul, a North Korea expert at South Korea's Kyungnam University. "The revelation of his wife is a sign that Kim wants to show a more open leadership."

In this image released by by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed in Tokyo by the Korea News Service on Wednesday July 25, 2012 North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, centre, Ri Sol Ju, centre left.  visit the Rungna People's Pleasure Ground, which is nearing completion, in this undated picture  North Korea's new, young leader Kim Jong Un is married, state TV reported Wednesday for the first time in a brief and otherwise routine announcement that ends weeks of speculation about a beautiful woman who has accompanied him to recent public events. Kim toured an amusement park with his In this image released by by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed in Tokyo by the Korea News Service on Wednesday July 25, 2012 North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, centre, Ri Sol Ju, centre left. visit the Rungna People's Pleasure Ground, which is nearing completion, in this undated picture North Korea's new, young leader Kim Jong Un is married, state TV reported Wednesday for the first time in a brief and otherwise routine announcement that ends weeks of speculation about a beautiful woman who has accompanied him to recent public events. Kim toured an amusement park with his "wife, comrade Ri Sol Ju" on Tuesday, while a crowd cheered for the leader, the news anchor said without giving any more details about Ri, including how long they had been married. (, AP)

The couple's public appearances and Wednesday's brief marriage announcement are a striking contrast to Kim Jong Il's style. His 17-year rule was known for its secrecy, and his companions and children were rarely discussed. That includes Kim Jong Un, who was virtually unknown outside North Korea before his formal introduction to the world in late 2010.

North Korean media showed Kim and Ri smiling broadly, Kim leaning slightly toward her, as they inspected the newly opened Rungna People's Pleasure Ground.

The new leader's methods are considered more similar to his grandfather, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, who was often shown alongside his wife, Kim Jong Suk, and with children in his arms.

Ahn Chan-il, a political scientist at the World Institute for North Korea Studies in South Korea, said the marriage revelation suggests Kim is inching toward "more Western-style" leadership; it also helps ordinary North Koreans feel that their new ruler is an average guy, not an eccentric.

North Korean media on Wednesday July 25, 2012, identified the woman seen accompanying North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, front right, in a recent series of public appearances as his wife, named in news reports as comrade Ri Sol-ju, front left. Kim and his wife are seen Tuesday July 24, 2012, together attending a ceremony to mark the completion of an amusement park facility built on Rungna islet in Pyongyang, North Korea. The North Korea TV anchor woman said Kim toured an amusement park with his North Korean media on Wednesday July 25, 2012, identified the woman seen accompanying North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, front right, in a recent series of public appearances as his wife, named in news reports as comrade Ri Sol-ju, front left. Kim and his wife are seen Tuesday July 24, 2012, together attending a ceremony to mark the completion of an amusement park facility built on Rungna islet in Pyongyang, North Korea. The North Korea TV anchor woman said Kim toured an amusement park with his "wife, comrade Ri Sol Ju" on Tuesday, while a crowd cheered for the leader, reported the newsreader, but did not give any more details about Ri, including how long they had been married. ( KRT TV) TV OUT, AP Photo )

There have been other changes during Kim Jong Un's rule, including his promotion of younger officials and, most recently, his surprise dismissal of former military chief Ri Yong Ho, once seen as a key mentor during Kim's rise to power.

Daniel Pinkston, a Seoul-based analyst with the International Crisis Group, played down the possibility that recent signs of Western influence in North Korea mean real reform is coming soon.

Still, he said that Kim Jong Un's decision to publicize the woman's presence shows a leadership quality distinct from his guarded father. Marriage, Pinkston said, would ease worries among Kim's people and the much older officials serving under him "about the youth question."

South Koreans have closely followed the bits and pieces North Korea has released about Kim Jong Un and his companion, including their attendance at a concert where Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters performed, at a memorial for Kim Il Sung and at inspections of various North Korean sites.

The reports on those earlier events never identified her, though there was speculation that she was North Korea's first lady because of her poised demeanor and her habit of standing near Kim and apart from other officials.

North Korean media on Wednesday July 25, 2012, identified the woman seen accompanying North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, front centre, in a recent series of public appearances as his wife, named in news reports as comrade Ri Sol-ju, front right. Kim and his wife are seen Tuesday July 24, 2012, together attending a ceremony to mark the completion of an amusement park facility built on Rungna islet in Pyongyang, North Korea. The North Korea TV anchor woman said Kim toured an amusement park with his North Korean media on Wednesday July 25, 2012, identified the woman seen accompanying North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, front centre, in a recent series of public appearances as his wife, named in news reports as comrade Ri Sol-ju, front right. Kim and his wife are seen Tuesday July 24, 2012, together attending a ceremony to mark the completion of an amusement park facility built on Rungna islet in Pyongyang, North Korea. The North Korea TV anchor woman said Kim toured an amusement park with his "wife, comrade Ri Sol Ju" on Tuesday, while a crowd cheered for the leader, reported the newsreader, but did not give any more details about Ri, including how long they had been married. ( KRT TV) TV OUT, AP Photo )

The speculation about Kim Jong Un's private life has coincided with high tension on the Korean Peninsula following a North Korean long-range rocket launch in April and repeated threats by Pyongyang to attack the South.

A push by the United States and its allies for North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program is stalled. North Korea, meanwhile, struggles to feed its people. A recent U.N. report said two-thirds of its 24 million people face chronic food shortages, and access to clean water, regular electricity and medicine is still remote for most of those living in the underdeveloped countryside. A U.S.-based rights group also estimates tens of thousands of prisoners remain held in Soviet-style penal camps.

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