Kim Jong Il made a triumphant return to parliament Thursday for his reappointment as the leader of North Korea on the heels of a rocket launch heralded as "historic" at home but assailed elsewhere as provocative.
Kim, presiding over the opening session of the reclusive communist country's rubber-stamp legislature, was making his first major public appearance since reportedly suffering a stroke last August. He appeared considerably thinner and older than nine months ago.
Arriving to a standing ovation from fellow deputies to the 687-seat Supreme People's Assembly, he returned their applause by clapping, then motioned for them to be seated, footage broadcast on state TV Thursday evening showed.
Legislators approved Kim as chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission, an appointment that under the constitution makes him the nation's top leader while his father, late North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, remains "eternal president."
"Having comrade Kim Jong Il at the highest post of our country again is a great honor and happiness for our military and people and a great happy event for all Korean people," a newscaster said on state TV.
The appearance may put to rest questions about whether Kim, 67, has recuperated from a stroke that U.S. and South Korean officials say he suffered in mid-August. His failure to attend a milestone parade marking the 60th anniversary of the country's founding in September had sparked concerns about his health and fears of a succession crisis in the nuclear-armed nation. Pyongyang denies he was ever ill.
Kim re-emerged in state media in early October and has steadily visited farms, factories and military units for "on-the-spot field guidance" in an energetic tour widely seen as an attempt to squelch rumors about his health.
However, recent photos show him looking frail and extremely thin, having lost his burgeoning belly. Images released March 19 by the official Korean Central News Agency show Kim gripping the railings of a swimming pool in what appeared to be an effort to hold himself upright.
North Korea has sought to build unity and support for Kim in the days preceding the opening session, first with Sunday's controversial rocket launch and then with a series of documentaries paying homage to his leadership.
North Koreans got their first glimpse Tuesday of the rogue regime's rocket launch, more than two days after a liftoff decried by the U.S., Japan, South Korea and other nations as a provocation that merits international censure.
North Korea claimed it successfully put a communications satellite into orbit and that it was transmitting data and playing patriotic odes to Kim and his father, the country's founder.
U.S. and South Korean military officials say nothing made it into orbit and accuse Pyongyang of using the launch to test its long-range missile technology.
Washington, calling the launch a bold violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions barring North Korea from ballistic missile-related activity, is leading the push for council condemnation.
However, council debate remains stalled, with North Korea's closest ally, China, and Russia maintaining calls for restraint.