SEOUL - NORTH Korea stepped up its campaign to prove leader Kim Jong Il is well and in control by showing him looking at an electronic copy of a newspaper dated on Tuesday in a series of photos released through its official media.
US and South Korean officials have said Mr Kim, 66, suffered a stroke in August, raising questions about leadership in Asia's only communist dynasty and who was making decisions about the North's nuclear programme.
Despite re-emerging in early October in official media reports about making public appearances and seen in undated photographs, there had been no definite and up-to-date image that showed the reclusive leader in good health.
In the series of photographs released by KCNA news agency, Kim is seen inspecting a library in the northern Jagang province and looking at a computer monitor displaying an electronic copy of the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper dated Dec 16.
Public appearances by Mr Kim, as well as his health, are held in such secrecy that their exact location and the timing are almost never disclosed, even after the event.
Mr Kim, wearing a heavy winter coat, a fur hat and ski gloves indoors, is shown listening grim-faced to briefings by local officials as he toured the Jagang provincial information centre.
'Reading information through a computer network is not only economical but an effective method of enabling a lot of people to read anything in any place, he noted, underscoring the need to expand the computer network,' KCNA said.
The front page of the Rodong Sinmun carried the headline story about a visiting Egyptian delegation of Orascom Telecom officials presenting a gift to Kim.
Orascom launched a mobile telephone service in the North on Monday, a market seen at best as strictly limited in commercial viability because the authorities are unlikely to allow the general public to have access to telecommunication networks.
Last week, a French doctor who is thought to have treated Mr Kim was quoted in French newspaper Le Figaro as saying the leader had suffered a stroke but did not undergo surgery and is now better. -- REUTERS