Kim resurfaces after 'election'

The North Korean leader Kim Jong-il appeared yesterday at his first major event since suspicions surfaced last year that he had suffered a stroke, accepting his re-election by parliament as the country's supreme military leader.

The move by the new rubber-stamp Supreme People's Assembly, while unanimous and expected, marked Mr Kim's return to centre stage as the reclusive communist state celebrates what it deemed a triumphant weekend satellite launch.

North Korean TV broadcast footage that showed Mr Kim looking thinner than before his suspected stroke in August. As he walked on to the stage at the newly elected assembly, followed by other officials, delegates broke into thunderous applause.

Mr Kim, 67, who typically does not speak when he attends the annual parliament sessions, did not appear to address the delegates. He has been conspicuously absent from public events since his illness, which raised questions about his iron grip over Asia's only communist dynasty and whether anyone was waiting in the wings to succeed him.

North Korea has threatened to take "strong steps" if the UN Security Council punishes it for Sunday's rocket launch.

The Security Council has so far failed to agree on a response to what was widely seen as a disguised missile test, prompting the US Senator John McCain to press China, North Korea's key ally, to get tough on its impoverished neighbour.

The North Korean KCNA news agency said Mr Kim was re-elected as chairman of the National Defence Commission, the seat of power in North Korea.

North Korea's propaganda machine has carefully managed the re-emergence of Mr Kim from his illness through issuing reports about his tours to factories and military bases but only showing still photographs of the visits.

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