Image: Kim Jong Il
An undated photo released by North Korea via Korea News Service in Tokyo on Sundayshows North Korean leader Kim Jong Il watching a soccer game between teams of the North Korean army. The news service didn't give the date and place.
updated 11/2/2008 1:59:28 AM ET 2008-11-02T05:59:28

North Korea released new photographs of leader Kim Jong Il on Sunday amid intense speculation over the health of the communist country's absolute ruler.

Kim, 66, reportedly suffered a stroke and underwent brain surgery in August. North Korea has denied he is ill and has in recent weeks released news reports, photos and footage portraying the leader as active and able.

On Sunday, the North's state TV showed undated still photos of what it said is Kim watching a soccer match between two army-affiliated teams and talking with people, according to the South Korean Unification Ministry.

One of the photos shows Kim sitting with other people inside a building and watching something from what appears to be a special viewing stand. Kim is shown smiling, wearing his trademark sunglasses with a brown jacket and black pants, but scenes of any soccer match are not visible.

Other shots show Kim in the same clothes, talking with people near a field, although no soccer players are seen. Separate photos released show standalone scenes of a soccer match.

Earlier Sunday, the North's Korean Central News Agency reported that Kim attended a soccer match between Mangyongbong and Jebi teams of the (North) Korean's People's Army together with military personnel. The report did not say when and where the game was played.

The agency said Kim expressed "great satisfaction over a high level of the game played by them" and praised the army for leading the country's "songun," or military first, policy.

Speculation on Kim's health flared after he missed a key national parade marking the country's 60th birthday in September.

Kim, who rules the Stalinist nation with absolute authority, has not publicly named any successors, leading to concerns about an uncertain future in the impoverished, nuclear-armed country.

Japan's Fuji television has reported that Kim's eldest son, Kim Jong Nam, flew recently to Paris to recruit a neurosurgeon to treat his father.

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso told lawmakers last week that the French doctor boarded a flight to Beijing, perhaps en route to North Korea. South Korea's intelligence chief, Kim Sung-ho, also said the son was believed to have traveled to France recently.

Last month, North Korea released photos showing Kim inspecting a military unit and appearing healthy. However, it did not say when the pictures were taken, sparking speculation that the photos might have been old because the lush green foliage appeared not to match the Korean peninsula's current autumn season.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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