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Thursday, July 26, 2012 - Page updated at 07:00 p.m.
North Korea reveals young leader Kim Jong Un has wife
By Chico Harlan
The Washington Post
TOKYO — North Korean state media disclosed Wednesday that leader Kim Jong Un is married, a startling announcement in a country that has long kept its first ladies nearly invisible.
The revelation ends weeks of speculation about the identity of a slender woman with a stylish bob who had accompanied Kim during several recent public appearances.
State media identified the woman as Kim's wife, "Comrade Ri Sol Ju." But there was no mention of Ri's age or of how long the couple have been married.
The emergence of a first lady ends a four-decade period in which companions of the ruling family were kept almost entirely behind the scenes. The North's willingness to give Ri a high profile adds to evidence that Kim, appointed just seven months ago as North Korea's leader, is trying to create a more personable image than that of his dour, reclusive father.
"It seems Kim Jong Un will have a more open attitude compared to his father's generation," Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korea researcher at Seoul's Sejong Institute, wrote after the Wednesday announcement.
Ri appears to be in her late 20s or early 30s. Kim is thought to be in his late 20s.
The North's state media have shown Ri with Kim — either in photographs or on television — four times. The couple attended a concert featuring American cartoon characters. They visited the mausoleum where Kim Il Sung, the young leader's grandfather, lies in state.
They also toured a kindergarten, where state-released video showed them whispering to each other and sharing laughs.
The latest batch of pictures was released Wednesday, before the marriage announcement, and showed the couple at an amusement park.
Despite official efforts to cultivate a warm image of Kim, he oversees one of the world's most coldblooded states: The government funnels its money to weapons, provides scant food for its people and punishes those who criticize the status quo.
Kim could still emerge as a reformer, analysts say. But since Kim Jong Il's death in December, his son has rapidly consolidated power, assuming a series of supreme positions that place him atop every important military and Workers' Party organ and cracking down on North Koreans who try to flee.
Copyright © The Seattle Times Company
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