Koreans send good wishes to `sick' Kim

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The Independent Online
Seoul (AP) - In the second indication in two days that North Korea's new leader could be ill, the country's official media reported yesterday that calls for his good health were pouring in from around the nation.

Kim Jong Il, the isolated communist country's ruler, rarely appears in public and has still to formally take power seven months after the death of his father, Kim Il Sung, the long-time ruler and founder of North Korea. The younger Kim's reclusiveness has led to speculation that he may be ill with diabetes or kidney or liver problems.

The North's official Korea Central News Agency said that wishes for Kim's long life and good health were pouring in from people of all walks of life. It said the leader had been presented with 100 kinds of medicinal herbs, including ginseng. Others have presented him with wood carvings and other gifts to wish him longevity.

On Thursday, another report said North Korea's official party newspaper had suggested last month that Kim was not well. The article was highly unusual, since any reference to the health of the top leader has been taboo in the past.

Rodong Sinmun, in its 17 December edition, said villagers were braving freezing rain to search for ginseng for Kim, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said on Thursday.

The leader appeared to have lost considerable weight when he attended his father's funeral in July. But on 1 January during a visit to an army barracks - his first public appearance in two months - Kim looked better and seemed to have gained weight.