The wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been seen in public for the first time in more than a year.
Ri Sol Ju was pictured with her husband at a concert marking one of the country’s biggest holidays, the Day of the Shining Star, the birthday of his father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il, on Tuesday.
In pictures released by state media, the couple are seen smiling and applauding the performance at Mansudae Art Theatre in the capital, Pyongyang.
Last seen in public in January last year at an event for the Lunar New Year holiday, Ri’s absence since then has sparked speculation over her health and a possible pregnancy.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) told the country’s lawmakers on Tuesday that Ri appeared to have stayed away from outside activities to head off coronavirus infections but was “playing well with their kids”.
The NIS believes Ri and Kim have three children, but little is publicly known about the trio.
North Korea has not confirmed any COVID-19 cases, but the NIS has said an outbreak could not be ruled out as the country had active exchanges with China, where the virus first emerged, before closing the border early last year.
Unlike several previous events, nobody in the photographs published by the official ruling Worker’s Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun were wearing masks or maintaining social distancing measures.
The newspaper also reported that Kim Jong Un visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, which houses the embalmed bodies of his father and grandfather, to lay wreaths on the anniversary.
On the same day, NIS accused North Korean computer hackers of trying to steal information about coronavirus vaccines and treatments.
But the service denied a South Korean MP’s claim that vaccine maker Pfizer was targeted.
Ha Tae-keung, a member of the parliament’s intelligence committee, told reporters NIS revealed in a private briefing that North Korea hacked Pfizer to obtain COVID-19 vaccine technology.
Mr Ha stood by his comments despite a denial by NIS, saying the wording about Pfizer “was so clear that I didn’t even ask about that verbally” during the briefing.
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