Wife of N. Korea's Kim is former singer: S. Korea
SEOUL - Agence France-Presse
In this Wednesday, July 25, 2012 photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and distributed in Tokyo by the Korea News Service Thursday, July 26, 2012, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, accompanied by his wife Ri Sol Ju, right, waves to the crowd as they inspect the Rungna People's Pleasure Ground in Pyongyang. (AP Photo/Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service)The wife of North Korea's Kim Jong-Un is a former singer who caught the leader's eye while she was giving a performance, South Korean media said Thursday after Pyongyang disclosed the marriage.
Official media in the secretive state revealed late Wednesday that a stylish young woman pictured accompanying Kim this month is his wife, Ri Sol-Ju.
It gave no details about her and did not say when they wed. But the mere fact that the couple were presented in public marked a new departure for the nation's dynastic leadership.
The world has been scrambling for information about Kim Jong-Un since he took over the impoverished but nuclear-armed state after his father Kim Jong-Il died suddenly last December.
In public, Kim Jong-Un has presented a relaxed and confident image in an apparent attempt to emphasise his readiness to rule despite his youth and inexperience.
The disclosure of the marriage was seen as part of the process.
While Kim Jong-Il's wives were never pictured at official functions, "the regime is now facing a different situation, and the move is part of work to make Kim Jong-Un appear old and wise enough to rule", said Seoul-based online newspaper the Daily NK.
The aim is partly to show "he is not a child", said Chang Yong-Suk, of the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University.
South Korean media generally agreed that the short-haired and smiling woman, apparently in her twenties, is a former songstress who was specially trained to become Kim's consort.
Yonhap news agency said she could be seen singing on video footage of a performance released by the North in February last year. Ri had taken a six-month course in the duties of a first lady, it said.
Chosun Ilbo newspaper said Ri was active in the North's Unhasu orchestra until last year and performed for Kim and his father on New Year's Eve 2010.
"There is a possibility Jong-Un chose her as his wife after seeing her at the concert hall," it quoted a source as saying.
Another source told the paper that after the marriage Ri had undergone a six-month course in duties of a first lady at Kim Il-Sung University.
JoongAng Ilbo also described Ri as a former singer who came to the young Kim's notice during a performance. It said Kim's father had singled her out as first lady while working on his succession plan.
The Kim Il-Sung University graduate is from the northeastern province of North Hamkyong and her father is an academic and mother a doctor, the paper said. Dong-A Ilbo gave similar details about her background. But in a report which contradicted other accounts, it said the couple married in 2009 and had a child the following year.
The International Crisis Group think-tank said in a report this week that Kim appears fully in charge, despite speculation he would rely on close advisers because of his youth and inexperience.
But it said there was nothing to suggest he would take measures to improve the lot of his people amid severe food shortages, or reduce regional frictions over the North's nuclear and missile programmes.
The United States took the opportunity to reiterate concerns about the plight of North Koreans under the Kim dynasty.
"We would always wish any kind of newlyweds well as they embark" on married life, said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
"But obviously our concerns first and foremost are for the North Korean people, and our hope that conditions for them will improve." Yonhap speculated that Ri could have visited South Korea, saying a 17-year-old student named Ri Sol-Ju was part of a delegation to the Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon in September 2005.
The student performed a duet during the event, it said.